In many homes, you will find a smart speaker of sorts. In some ways, current trends seem in line with predictions made back in 2016 about exponential growth in the uptake of these devices.
However, the application of voice-enabled technology isn’t just to speakers. Today, voice recognition has been incorporated in smartphones and similar devices to make them more secure.
So, we can only expect that speakers that respond to human command will become more widespread in the coming years. But just what is a smart speaker? What kind of technology does it use?
What Is a Smart Speaker?
A smart speaker is one that acts on voice commands with the help of a built-in virtual assistant such as Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant. One needs to say a “hot word” to activate a smart speaker.
Therefore a smart speaker is much more than just an audio playback device. It connects to other smart devices via the home Wi-Fi network, acting as the central command. Thus, you can use it to control your HVAC smart thermostat, smart lights, smart lock, and so on.
Smart speakers are also called wireless speakers or Wi-Fi Speakers. They pack a lot of advantages, including portability, better sound quality, and functionality.
What Is a Virtual Assistant?
In our definition of a smart speaker, we have mentioned virtual assistants. Therefore, we need to understand what this is all about. Well, a virtual assistant (or smart assistant) is a software that enables an intelligent device to answer questions and perform specific tasks.
Smart assistants link the user to the functionality of smart devices and can control smart thermostats, smart lights, smart cameras, and so on. Notable examples of intelligent virtual assistants include Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant, and Apple Siri.
What’s The Technology behind Smart Speakers?
There are different Artificial Intelligence (AI) technologies that drive smart speakers. They include Automatic Speech Recognition (ASR), Natural Language Understanding (NLU), and Natural Language Generation (NLG). Let’s look at each of these techniques to see the role it plays in making smart speakers work.
1. Automatic Speech Recognition (ASR)
Automatic Speech Recognition or ASR is a technology through which human beings can speak to computerized devices. In short, it enables interaction between human beings and machines. When it comes to smart speakers, ASR is the technology that allows the device to listen to human speech soundwaves and converting them into words.
The advanced form of ASR is the Natural Language Processing (NLP), which enables realistic conversations between human beings and smart devices. Incidentally, virtual assistants such as Amazon Alexa, Apple Siri, and Google Assistant rely on the advanced form of ASR.
Regardless of the virtual assistant you use, ASR systems work in a similar sequence of steps. They pick up your words and break systematically break them down using the following steps:
- The smart device speaker listens as you speak and creates waves representing your words.
- It filters the waves by removing any background noise. If the volume was low, the device normalizes it.
- The smart speaker then breaks down the waves into phonemes or basic sound building blocks. In English, there are 44 phenomes.
- It put the phenomes into a chain link, analyzes them, and uses statistical probability to deduce the words and complete sentences.
- At that point, the smart speaker has understood the speech and can now offer a meaningful response.
Of course, all of that happens in a flash, given that you are dealing with a computerized system.
2. Natural Language Understanding (NLU)
Natural Language Understanding (NLU) is the section of AI that breaks down human language and translates it into a format that machines can read. In a smart speaker, it is NLU that derives meaning from an individual’s speech.
Using grammatical rules, standard syntax, and overall context, NLU understands natural language better than the literal translation. Even though still under development, the goal of NLU is to understand the spoken and written language like humans.
NLU understands what humans say using sentiment analysis. Through that, a smart speaker detects and interprets the emotions in a speech categorizing them as negative, neutral, or positive. A smart speaker uses machine learning (ML) to understand an individual’s speech pattern, but it eventually does.
With that, a smart speaker can understand questions and provide appropriate answers. Virtual assistants need NLU to tell you the day’s weather, for example.
3. Natural Language Generation (NLG)
Natural Language Generation (NLG) is the part of AI that enables a smart speaker to translate data into spoken words. For example, when you ask the smart speaker the weather, it is NLG that allows it to give you an answer.
Even though NLG has been around for long, it is becoming more sophisticated with its application in Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant, and Apple Siri. Through NLG, a smart speaker sifts through large amounts of data and gives you the answer you need.
Smart Speaker: How Does It Come Together?
Despite the AI tool in action at any particular time, smart speakers work by collecting and interpreting data. When a person speaks, the speaker digitizes the voice in the form of machine-readable data. It does that through Automatic Speech Recognition (ASR).
The smart speaker has to analyze vast amounts of data to determine your needs. Machine Learning (ML) enables the system to internalize the contexts, environments, and emotional nuances of your speech. In the end, it can interpret what you are saying using Natural Language Understanding.
After that, the part that responds kicks in. The smart assistant uses the data to generate speech in a format that humans can understand. In doing so, it utilizes the built-in natural language generation capabilities.
Smart speakers provide much more than virtual assistants. Most of them utilize Bluetooth and Wi-Fi to give you convenient wireless connectivity. Also, they control the smart devices in your home and produce the sound of the highest quality. No matter your reason for buying a smart speaker, there are so many options available on the market. Examples include LG XBoom AI ThinQ WK7, Bose Home Speaker 500, UE Megablast, and Echo Dot (3rd Gen).