5 Times Voice Assistants Starred in TV Shows in 2020
The widespread adoption of voice assistants and smart speakers means television shows and other parts of pop culture can discuss and use the technology without having to spend a lot of time explaining what they are and how they work. In 2020, voice assistants and smart speakers, real and otherwise, popped up repeatedly as part of TV shows. We picked out five of the most notable instances, all but one involving speculative or fictional technology, but that still provide insight on how popular culture views the technology.
Netflix showed some real enthusiasm for voice assistants this year, nowhere more so than in The Circle show that debuted early in 2020. The show put contestants by themselves in different apartments, forbidding them from interacting except through a voice-activated app called The Circle, a combination voice assistant, and social media profile page. But, while the contestants seem to believe they are talking to an AI, The Circle is actually just a producer transcribing what they say and a slightly robotic voice reading the text from other contestants or the producer. While commercial voice assistants like Alexa and Google Assistant might have been able to do what the show says its voice assistant does, it’s probably much cheaper to hire someone who can type than to develop a whole new voice assistant.
Too Hot to Handle
Netflix liked the idea of a voice assistant at the center of a reality show enough to do it again, with a different angle. Too Hot to Handle is a dating reality show whose premise is that attractive people have to be chaste in order to win money. Other than the contestants, the only voice heard on the show is Lana, the voice assistant in the “smart” speakers that talks to the players and narrates the show for the audience. While the contestants again seemed to buy the idea that Lana is an AI, she is actually the British comedian and actor Desiree Burch. Lana is even less of an AI than The Circle since she speaks with Burch’s real voice.
NBC is unique on this list in that it actually incorporated a real voice assistant into a television show. “The Voice” singing competition integrated this year with Google Assistant, allowing viewers to make real-time votes for their favorite performers. The voice command adds a new channel for people to participate in the show while benefitting Google by potentially raising interest in YouTube Music, which Google wants to make sure people are using as it completes the replacement of Google Play.
Fox went for a darker, fictional look at the threat of voice tech and AI in the short-lived series neXt in the fall. The show tells the story of a voice AI developer whose creation starts teaching itself, escaping human control and becoming a growing threat to all of humanity. Showrunner Manny Coto has said the idea for the show came from his son telling him about a couple of times that Alexa woke him up by talking in the middle of the night without being activated.
Voice assistants will never be a threat if the Muppets have their way. The second episode of the new Muppets Now show showcased a new smart speaker built by Dr. Bunsen Honeydew named BEAK-R to replace his lab assistant Beaker. The voice assistant answered questions and set reminders for events, infuriating Beaker to the point he throws the smart speaker into a furnace, melting the smart speaker, and restoring the status quo. But, while Beaker may have eliminated his rival, voice assistants are only going to be popping up more in TV shows in the years ahead.