Why voice means we need to rethink the API
Wireless Technologies

Why voice means we need to rethink the API

It’s not difficult to argue that Amazon’s Alexa ruled this year’s CES. The company’s voice-based service was available in over 40 products and the company now says there are more than 7,000 commands available. And if it wasn’t Alexa, it was some other voice-enabled product.

But it’s not just in the home and at CES that people will be talking to technology. Gartner predicts that almost 20% of all interactions with the phone will be through virtual assistants such as Cortana by 2019. Spiceworks says 19% of businesses are currently using intelligent assistants/chatbots for work-related tasks on company-owned devices, which another 30% are planning to use them in business over the next three years.

In his end-of-year predictions, CA’s UK manager Milko Van Duijl said 2017 would see a “fundamental shift” in the way we interact with technology due to the rise of conversational software.

Voice is, however, still in a largely nascent stage. If it’s not bringing up porn, or adding doll houses to shopping lists at the behest of the television, it’s still limited in terms of features and interoperability. And that in part is down to the APIs around them.

“If I were to sit there and say; “Hey Alexa, check me in on Foursquare” I can't do that,” says Richard Pulliam - Vice President, Business Unit Strategy, Developer Products & API Management. “Why? Because the API model is such that the developer has to know what you're going to say, then you have to re-articulate that in an API request, go get the key, Foursquare then figure out what will be their response to your possibly ever-changing need.”

To the average user, it might seem like there’s a simple solution: just make the thing work. But behind the scenes, there’s work to be done.

“The problem is the human and the machine element in my mind creates a different requirement how we think about APIs and how they integrate to backend services,” says Pulliman. “It challenges our notion of the API integration model; do we need to find a way to put more automation in the system?”

Recent acquisitions by some of the big technology players could be construed as clues companies are already looking at this.

“Google buying API.ai, and Samsung buying Viv, I think that tells you a lot. Google bought API.ai a week after they bought Apigee; I don't know whether those things are correlated or not, but I find it very compelling. APIs around how the human interacts and what that generates on the backend, I think it will be monumental for, certainly retail, and all kinds [of industries].”

“The human to machine interaction will be driven by APIs, it's just that we couldn’t sit here today and tell you what it's going to look like because those applications are going to be a little different. APIs, like they always do, are going to play a central role.”


The API grows up

Outside of voice and how it will evolve in the future, it’s been an interesting year for the API.

“We're kind of past the point where people go; ‘I'm going to open up my API and make ton of money from it,’” says Jaime Ryan, Director of Product Management & Strategy at CA. “It's all about how do you drive the value internally by changing your business, how do you innovate and extend to what's next using the benefits of having everything API-enabled?”

“So it's more of an internal value proposition about driving your entire business and changing your business models and doing that rather than ‘My API going to make me money directly.’”

The rise of microservices and especially IoT is highlighted as a big driver for this change. The massive levels of integration that a near-unlimited amount of devices require could be daunting. Both Ryan and Pulliman cite GE’s Predix as a great example of how the API is being used to overcome these challenges. 

As Pulliman puts it: “You're just seeing the API grow up a little bit. It's growing up into the bigger middleware world.”

“It's the history or middleware; No matter what you do, whatever it is, it always gets sucked into the bigger story. The big integration teams that are driving the next generation apps and it's not just some innovation lab or innovation team that's building the next cool smart, it's actually becoming more broad in an organization.”


Security shouldn’t be a worry for developers

It might not be sexy, it might not be fun, but we have to talk to about security.

“In the race to make cool mobile apps, and/or apps that connect to some sensor [or] device that goes up in the cloud, a lot of those APIs are not secure, they're just built,” says Pulliman. “And people tend to believe that because they're not on a public API developer portal, that they're not available. And yet they're pretty easy to find.”

Ryan agrees: “Everything is an open system whether you want to be or not. Anything that's communicating over the internet, it can be reverse engineered, you can see exactly what's traveling over the wire.”

“You can't base your security entirely on ‘I've got some API key or secret embedded in my app’ it needs to be more dynamic, it needs to be more risk-based, understand behaviour of users, understand the difference between two different people, understand the relationship between people and an app and a device - and that extends to IoT where there aren't necessarily even people involved, or not directly involved.”

“The developer shouldn't really have to worry about that. They shouldn't have to worry about exactly how you log in, or what biometrics you're using, or what different two-factor authentication you're using. The security teams can worry about that, the enterprise's IT teams can worry about that, the developers are all about the experience, and they should be able to focus on that experience.”


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Dan Swinhoe

Dan is Senior Staff Writer at IDG Connect. Writes about all manner of tech from driverless cars, AI, and Green IT to Cloudy stuff, security, and IoT. Dislikes autoplay ads/videos and garbage written about 'milliennials'.  

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