The increasing popularity of devices such as Google Home Assistant, Amazon Alexa, and Apple’s Siri has brought a lot of ease to the modern consumer. These “smart speakers” are no longer just an easy way to ask a computer a question or to change the currently playing song, but a full suite of connected items that can essentially turn every house into a smart home. However, many security concerns often go into the decision to start creating a smart home: can you connect your security system to the smart home hub? Will the smart home devices interfere with the security system? And how do you know your smart home devices won’t be compromised?
The History of Smart Devices
When IBM introduced the first digital speech recognition tools in 1961, they couldn’t have imagined what would become of it. Known as the IBM Shoebox, this early design in voice recognition equipment was rather simple by today’s standards. More a technological marvel than a prototype for a true at-home device, the IBM Shoebox could recognize 16 spoken words, a majority of which were digits 0 through 9, as well as “plus”, “minus”, and “total”, to instruct an adding machine to complete these computations. By converting voice sounds into electrical impulses, the computer was the first to recognize human speech in a way that would affect speech recognition software for the future.
The first major voice assistant was Apple’s Siri, introduced on the iPhone in 2011. Siri revolutionized the new iPhones, allowing users to speak directly with their virtual assistant to complete a variety of commands. Users could speak in plain English with Siri, to learn basic information and facts, place calls and send texts hands-free, and even navigate users home through the Apple Maps app. However, Siri was initially limited just to the iPhone.
Following shortly after Siri was Cortana, Microsoft’s own virtual assistant launching on computers and Windows Phones. Named after the AI character from the Halo franchise, Cortana offers many features similar to Siri, able to answer questions about weather and traffic, sports, make searches, recognize music, and even simulates dice rolls and coin flips when asked.
In 2014, Amazon introduced Alexa, the voice assistant for their Amazon Echo line of smart speakers. Its predecessor, Ivona, was invented in Poland and bought out by Amazon in 2013, who took inspiration for the device from the computers capable of speech on the Starship Enterprise from Star Trek. Alexa is able to complete a variety of functions, like playing music, setting timers, telling the weather, reading Wikipedia articles, and even add items to shopping lists.
Google formed their own smart voice assistant in 2016, known as Google Assistant. Assistant contains many of the same features as its contemporaries, able to place calls and texts, give information to the user, and navigate users with the use of Google Maps. Google Assistant differs from its cell phone colleagues by also offering use of the assistant through smart speakers, known as Google Nest speakers. Google Nest products are incredibly interconnected, featuring hands-free phone calling, Bluetooth audio, connection to Chromecast enabled televisions, and playing music.
Your Security System and Your Smart Speaker
Modern smart speakers have a lot of additional features outside of the ones built in. Nowadays, most smart speakers have connectivity function to a plethora of third party applications, products, and services, making it a breeze to control a variety of functions through one simple device. Smart plugs allow users to simply speak a command to turn off power to certain devices, most popularly being lights and thermostats, being able to turn off the lights and turn up the head with a simple voice command. Growing in popularity in recent years is the ability to connect these smart home devices to your home’s security system. How does it work? What is it compatible with? And is there any ill effects when connecting these devices?
Several security companies have connectivity options with smart homes. Companies like Amazon even own their own security company, Ring, which connects simply to their Alexa devices. Voice integration with many security systems boils down to installing the software to the smart speaker, and from there, adding the speaker to the network of security items already in place.
Using your smart speaker with your security system can help to automate a lot of the features we like seeing in security systems. With Alexa, for example, many security systems can be armed and disarmed just by voice commands, no longer requiring the use of the keypad. Commands are as simple as “arm the system in away mode” or “Disarm the security system”.
Alexa can be programmed to react to several phrases in order to activate these features, so no one specific line is required to interact with a connected security system. This can provide a plethora of additional features that can bring ease of mind to home owners setting up their initial home security system. For example, having access to simply speaking commands to arm and disarm the system have a lot of convenience, allowing you to activate the alarm from bed or on your way out of the house without going to the central panel to do so. Window and door locks can be activated by voice as well, saving both time and effort when it comes to making sure a house is entirely secured before leaving.
Additionally, the popularity of smart speakers with screens improve the quality of security systems. Users can access the video feed of security cameras with these screens, adding an additional layer of personal monitoring when at home. Doorbell cameras can also be accessed through virtual assistant devices, allowing users to answer the door from anywhere.
However, not every aspect of smart home securities is positive or convenient, with some actually causing security compromises. Namely, concerns for these products comes in the form of privacy and how data received from your systems are used. Security vulnerabilities have been noticed with numerous Amazon and Google products, including allowing access to security accounts based on IP addresses without warning and allowing devices to communicate and transmit data without consent. Thankfully, many of these issues are very minor in the grand scheme of things, and are quickly fixed by companies.
Truly, the internet of things is the future of how houses will run, and security systems are no exception to this. Being able to watch back footage, and voice activate sensors and alarms from anywhere in the home is a convenience that may even save lives. As the technology advances, so will the conveniences that come with it and the ease of access for the average person, with hopefully as much privacy as we are used to with older systems.