Alexa and Barbie May Be Siri’s New Rivals They may seem creepy to some, but new voice-recognition products could change speech-language treatment. App-titude
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App-titude  |   July 01, 2015
Alexa and Barbie May Be Siri’s New Rivals
Author Notes
  • Scott A. Kensinger, MS, CCC-SLP, is a clinician at Grossmont Post Acute Care in San Diego. He is an affiliate of ASHA Special Interest Group 15, Gerontology. Find him on Twitter at @ScottSDSLP. kensinger@runbox.com
    Scott A. Kensinger, MS, CCC-SLP, is a clinician at Grossmont Post Acute Care in San Diego. He is an affiliate of ASHA Special Interest Group 15, Gerontology. Find him on Twitter at @ScottSDSLP. kensinger@runbox.com×
Article Information
Speech, Voice & Prosodic Disorders / Speech, Voice & Prosody / App-titude
App-titude   |   July 01, 2015
Alexa and Barbie May Be Siri’s New Rivals
The ASHA Leader, July 2015, Vol. 20, online only. doi:10.1044/leader.APP.20072015.np
The ASHA Leader, July 2015, Vol. 20, online only. doi:10.1044/leader.APP.20072015.np
See you later, Siri! Au revoir, Cortana! A new speech-command device is here. And her name is Alexa.
Alexa is, in any case, the “wake word” you use to operate the device—a Bluetooth-connected speaker called Amazon Echo. The speaker connects with an app on a phone or tablet. And then you tell Alexa what to do using only your voice, just like the computer from Star Trek.
Alexa can remember shopping and to-do lists and answer a client’s factual “wh” questions. For example, you can ask her, “Alexa, what’s the capital of Vermont?” The cloud constantly updates her data, and some answers come from Wikipedia. She can also define words. If she doesn’t know the answer, she can open a browser with the search engine Bing.
Alexa and other emerging technologies in this speech-command category offer numerous and varied applications in speech-language treatment.
Memory help
Clinicians can use Alexa in memory exercises with clients For example, clients can use it to add five items to a shopping list: “Alexa, add strawberries, pineapple, peaches and pears to the shopping list.” Clients can then tell Alexa to set a timer for five minutes. They can then recite what’s on the shopping list and compare answers: “Alexa, what’s on my shopping list?”
Clients can use their voices to control Alexa while practicing the over-articulation strategy, increasing their vocal intensity, or adjusting their rate of speech.
Alexa can also serve as an external memory aid in “smart homes,” helping people with short-term memory loss or dementia. Amazon is working on enabling Alexa-generated purchases that are delivered to your door. Alexa can play music, play a news briefing, tell jokes, roll dice, flip a coin, and even play rock-paper-scissors. She will respond to trendy phrases, such as, “Alexa, live long and prosper.”
Of course, the Echo is still under development and has its limitations. The speech recognition is very good but not perfect. Alexa learns a voice better over time. Also, it does not know answers to every question, though its database constantly increases.
Barbie talks back
Alexa is also not the only show in town. The once-silent Barbie doll is soon to become a Web-enabled conversationalist. Hello Barbie, to be released later this year, connects to Wi-Fi and listens after a user presses a button. Even more revolutionary, Barbie can learn a child’s name and spontaneously bring up topics of interest. She can even participate in a two-way dialogue, recognizing, responding and remembering. She will learn a child’s likes and modify topics of conversation accordingly.
These features have obvious potential for speech-language pathologists working with children. If a child is working on turn-taking or answering questions, an SLP could, for example, have Barbie play “What if?” Barbie could ask something like, “What if you had a superpower? What would your superpower be?” After the child answers, Barbie could say something like, “Did you know I have a superpower? I can make myself invisible when no one is looking.”
Did I mention Barbie has a sense of humor? Personality traits like these could motivate the child and encourage more conversation. Also, because Barbie is a doll, it may reduce some of the pressure of social communication.
In all seriousness, when using products like Alexa and Barbie, privacy should be a major consideration. Both products remember everything you say (after you use the wake word or press a button), storing the information to improve the devices’ speech recognition and provide correct responses. ToyTalk, the company behind Hello Barbie’s technology, insists it uses the data only for product improvement, and not marketing. However, that does not assuage some parents’ concerns.
Nevertheless, these gadgets present exciting treatment opportunities for SLPs. Speech-command devices and speech recognition continue to improve and can target myriad goals in a variety of environments. Above all, Alexa and Barbie are fun communication partners and may well deserve a place in our speech toolbox.
Note: Amazon Echo ($99–$199) is available for purchase by invitation. Hello Barbie ($75) is scheduled to be released for the 2015 holiday season.
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July 2015
Volume 20, Issue 7