Hey, Siri – Where do you get your information from?

“Hey, Siri…”

There’s a downside to virtual assistants like Google, Siri and Alexa that perhaps we had never thought of.

For the Caribbean, it all started with superstar Rihanna. If you’re on Twitter, you will see a steady stream of funny memes and jokes. Rihanna’s face on a Jamaican bank note, Rihanna at a political party conference, Rihanna in Jamaican school uniform. Rihanna’s Wikipedia page was even updated!

The hashtag #RihannaIsAJamaican is trending, and of course, Barbadian tweeters are fighting back.

Twitter can get a little heavy sometimes, and the Rihanna story was a bit of light relief. But the viral hashtag did actually affect Siri and the information (or misinformation) it was giving out.

That’s a serious problem. Why? Getting information from virtual assistants like Siri is not the same thing as browsing Google or any other search engine.

Unlike browsing, virtual assistants usually provide one answer.

This then leads to the bigger question — where do virtual assistants get their information from? This is quite concerning if you factor in how easily answers can be hijacked by social media trends or even advertisers.

Image result for voice assistant devices

Voice platform developers Alpine.AI say one billion voice searches take place every month, across all types of smart devices. One agency, Comscore predicts that by 2020 (next year!) around half of all Internet queries will be done by voice.

Now, sales of voice-activated home devices such as Google’s smart speakers are booming. The speakers are being used to get answers to questions, not just for music or podcasts. But they’re still a work in progress.

But there are challenges. Consumer advocacy group Choice is concerned that the information we get will be “platform-controlled,” depending on deals done with the platform owners. Fast food and alcohol brands were the quickest to jump on board and start advertising their products via voice-activated searches.

In the U.S. health sector, for example, one answer might be third party apps. The Amazon/Alexa platform calls this a “skill.” For example, there is the well-used KIdsMD skill from Boston Children’s Hospital.

Google’s technology seems to be ahead of the game, over its competitors. Google Brain, the company’s AI research unit, is studying ways to improve voice detection as well as its more traditional searches.

There’s obviously a need for more research into this complex matter. And let’s hope Rihanna gets back her true nationality, soon!