Dec 12, 2022

Forget Alexa, Voice AI Is Still The Most Exciting Space in Tech Right Now

There’s nothing like a choppy economic climate to sharpen focus. Businesses across the globe —and nowhere more so than in the tech sector— have been evaluating their priorities and goals with a view to making plans to help them weather the storm we’ve been told is coming. SoundHound has been one of them. 

For the first time in a long while, Big Tech companies are proceeding with a slower pace of growth, and we’ve all been given a rare glimpse of how they view their own strengths and weaknesses. 

Amazon’s came with a subtextual admission that Alexa no longer ranks very highly in the company’s priority list, and in WIRED Boone Ashworth noted that another Silicon Valley behemoth, Google, has moved in a similar direction, noting: It may not be the end of an era exactly, but it’s clear the companies don’t see their voice assistants as top priorities when facing an economic downturn.”

But why would Big Tech relegate voice to the sidelines when consumer uptake and receptivity is sky high, and more businesses are looking to deploy voice tech as a consumer channel? 

You can’t do voice by half measures

When it comes to Amazon’s very public deemphasis of Alexa, WSJ attributes at least part of the problem to limitations of the tech, writing: “Adding capabilities would require greater investment, and many customers use Alexa for only a few functions.” One former employee told Insider this is the fault of a colossal failure of imagination,” adding that Alexa is or was “a wasted opportunity.”

One former employee told Insider this is the fault of a colossal failure of imagination,” adding that Alexa is or was “a wasted opportunity.”

Another ex-product manager for Alexa agreed, and criticized the voice assistant’s development —or lack thereof— speaking to Geekwire: “The fundamentals are still broken. They haven’t been able to focus on fixing a lot of the things that we built early on, that we knew were scaffolding, because we were moving really fast.” 

Alexa and Google Assistant have found themselves in a quagmire whereby the average in-home or vehicle usage is limited to just a few of the basics — switching lights on and off, playing music, giving weather information, etc. Adding more sophisticated capabilities to improve utility takes time, resources, and expertise. All things these companies don’t want to expend when they have their fingers in so many pies that they simply do not have to. 

Consequently, the technology is frozen in amber and continuing to lose a lot of money. Yet, elsewhere in the voice AI industry (and by extension the industries it serves) innovation is happening at pace. 


Critically, actually making money from voice technology is contingent on a better product —one that is good enough to hold truly conversational interactions. In their styming of any ambitious development, Big Tech never fully committed to the type of voice assistant that they would need to realize their goal of monetization. 

Writing for BDTechTalks, Ben Dickson writes that, “As soon as you want to perform tasks that are sensitive, require multiple interactions, or are multi-modal in nature, voice assistants become unreliable,” and while that may be true for the Big Tech voice assistants mentioned, just last month SoundHound launched Dynamic Interaction –a full duplex, multi-modal assistant that can handle multiple complex interactions as part of a fluent, natural conversation (don’t believe me? Just watch). 

Yes, that’s a plug, but it also makes the important point that this technology is not only possible, it’s out there and ready for deployment. 

Bloomberg reporter Parmy Olson agrees with Dickson’s observation, saying Amazon, “…​should focus on improving the technology and services around Echo and Alexa so consumers are willing to spend much more…”

Dickson also spies another opportunity for monetization that voice companies like ours are well aware of:

“Another solution is to pivot from the current model of general-purpose voice assistants to more specialized assistants that can be adapted to different applications. This will enable voice assistants to be integrated into the context and workflows of applications and make them much more capable of handling complex, multi-step tasks. I think that this format can have a viable B2B business model, especially in industries where there is a lot of hands-on work (manufacturing, restaurants, hotels, etc.) and a voice assistant can improve efficiency and cut down costs.”

At SoundHound we’ve seen surging demand from sectors like the restaurant industry where businesses are looking to automation to help them tackle labor challenges and counter the effects of soaring inflation. 

The fact is, when it comes to Big Tech, voice assistants are never going to be a top priority. They are a means to an end, not an end in themselves, and as such they are likely to be choked of investment when strategies change.

Long term outlook

So, outside of this cooling off by Big Tech, the trajectory of voice AI is still going great guns. Former Alexa team member, Tigger Kindel agrees:

“As a civilization, we’re going to continue to get closer and closer to computers being able to interact with us in the same way we interact with each other. It’s going to continue to happen. And there’s going to be some breakthroughs.”

Reports show that nearly half of all US adults will use voice technology on a regular basis within the next 3 years. Plus, Millennials and upcoming GenZers – two thirds of whom already use voice tech — show a clear preference for natural, more authentic methods of communication with brands. And 2 in 5 Americans now admit they’re making a concerted effort to unshackle themselves from the devices —but they’re unlikely to want to unshackle themselves from the conveniences those devices deliver. 

On the evidence, we should be taking voice very seriously as the next big interface. In our experience, most brands are.   

What next for partners? 

But if it makes more sense for Amazon to “let Alexa be” (to quote one WIRED article), and Google are doing something similar to the program that puts their assistant in partner devices, what does that mean for the many businesses that have taken the Big Tech route for their voice AI?

If the development of these assistants is now stunted by the redirection of resources, can the companies that have built services and devices around that tech still expect it to receive regular updates and upgrades – or grow in sophistication? This might now be in question. 

Such is always the risk of embedding third party technology. But especially so when that third party has a diverse portfolio of products and services, and objectives that don’t always involve making every one of those products and services better —or even available. 

Seek out a specialist

The fact is, when it comes to Big Tech, voice assistants are never going to be a top priority. They are a means to an end, not an end in themselves, and as such they are likely to be choked of investment when strategies change.

That might mean their particular solution fades into the background, but it certainly shouldn’t call into question the entire category. 

Yes, voice technology is hard to get right. It is not something that can be approached as a side project. And yes, the most common instances of it are still pretty clunky. But there are specialists out there getting it right and really delivering on the promise of interactive, fluent, conversational intelligence. Businesses looking to deploy (or change providers) should be seeking them out. 

In a world where innovation is mostly flatlining, voice technology is a space —one of the only spaces— where breakthroughs are still happening. We shouldn’t allow Alexa’s stagnation to distract from one of the most promising areas of AI right now.  One that’s transforming the customer experience, while helping businesses make efficiencies, improve safety, and generate revenue during these testing times. 

At SoundHound, we have all the tools and expertise needed to create custom voice assistants and a consistent brand voice. Explore SoundHound’s independent voice AI platform at Want to learn more or request a demo? Talk to us about how we can help bring your voice strategy to life.

Speak to an Expert.
Zubin Headshot

Zubin Irani is SoundHound’s Chief Revenue Officer and is responsible for fast-tracking the company’s growth and scalability for rapid global expansion. He earned his two MBAs concurrently from Columbia University and University of California, Berkeley.

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