An intelligent personal assistant (IPA) is artificial intelligence software that can perform common utilitarian tasks based on human input. They have become quite the rage recently. Some of the well-known ones are Alexa from Amazon, Siri from Apple, Microsoft Cortana, and Google Assistant. They use voice recognition to process human commands, provide information, or perform certain utilitarian functions. This post looks at the more common examples and explores their current capabilities and how they can impact your privacy and security.
Amazon Alexa - Alexa is the IPA software that powers Echo, which is a smart speaker from the same company. It is a speaker with a microphone array. Using Alexa, it can stream music, audiobooks, podcasts, as well as provide the weather, traffic conditions, etc. Amazon Echo can be programmed to be a home automation hub that can help set the thermostat, control switches, etc. Amazon provides Alexa as a service, which means while making use of it any connected device with a speaker and microphone can be programmed to have the same capabilities.
Apple Siri - Similar to Alexa, Siri is an IPA software that runs primarily on Apple devices such as iPhone, Mac, and Watch. It uses voice recognition software to understand your queries, instructions, etc., and identifies a tool to perform the required action. The tool might be a software application or a web browser. It has connectivity to popular applications such as Maps, restaurant locators, ticketing software, etc. It is also used in CarPlay, which is software used in automobiles to control the audio system, provide navigation assistance, etc.
Microsoft Cortana – Cortana is an IPA from Microsoft. While it is most commonly found and used in PCs which run on Microsoft Windows, Xbox, and Windows phones and tablets. It is also available on iOS and Android devices.
Google Assistant – Google Assistant is the latest entrant into the IPA space and is promoted by Google Inc. It runs primarily on Google Pixel (smartphone), and is also integrated into Google Home, which is a device similar to Amazon Echo, as well as Android Auto. Much like the others, it will provide directions, play music, locate places of interest, provide weather information, perform web searches, etc.
When choosing an IPA, be cognizant of the fact that all of their services run on the cloud. This means that the data (your voice) and the commands it executes are all processed in a server somewhere. You will have to provide your personal details to these devices for them to function, e.g. your email address and password if you want the IPA to read out your email to you. Most of the IPAs will do autonomous tasks as well, such as ordering groceries or other items from the internet. While most of the products reviewed here are from some of the most trusted companies in the world, you are still entrusting some of your most personal information to outsiders and you have to be vigilant that your privacy and security are not compromised.