CES welcomed more than 170,000 attendees this year and yet had no women presenting the top keynotes. A quarter of all other speaking slots were taken by women, so it’s not hard to see why this kicked off a social media backlash #CESSoMale.
I’m sure by next year this will be fixed as the industry gets up to speed. But isn’t it ironic that the two real stars of CES; Amazon Echo and Google Assistant both have female voices as standard? Google offers a male ‘Voice 2’ and Alexa is available as a male voice (in English only). But these fellas are not the default. Does this mean the tech market is most comfortable with our image of assistants being female? I think it does.
Despite this underlying misogyny, the integration of Amazon and Google assistants are changing the way almost every connected device works. Alexa and Google Assistant are vying to be the soul of the objects in your home. Both US giants are trying to imbue all kinds of home appliances with their voice-driven AIs. This could be your TV, fridge - even your toilet (see main image).
The crucial thing for marketers isn’t which AI will win the battle to be the voice operating system of your home - it’s that consumers will start to expect the devices they buy to be operated by voice.
Voice-driven UX will be table stakes, not a point of difference. I’ve been vocal about stats like "71% of people think voice tech will be used for one or more daily tasks in 10 years’ time" but most brands think it’s weird and are waiting for brands like Domino’s and Pernod Ricard to lead the way.
But with 50% of all search expected to be coming from voice in 2020, is this really something smart marketers can ignore?
Brands don’t need to work on their voice-enabled bread bin strategy anytime soon, but they do need to work out how voice is going to work as part of their overall customer experience. While most consumers aren’t going to fork out for thousands for a fridge that you can have a conversation with, they are definitely going to expect to talk to their household objects of the future. Brands will be able to speak to them at home on these devices too.
It will take more than the 12 months between now and next years’ CES for Voice to go fully mainstream but we are at a stage where we can decide how these devices work.
Does Alexa have to be a woman as standard? Can Google Assistant not be by default a female voice? If the audience of CES 2019 wants women to be better represented on stage, maybe they could start by being more fairly represented on our devices.
Tom Ollerton is innovation director at We Are Social