Project Alias from Danish interaction designers Bjørn Karmann and Tore Knudsen is a beautiful critique of voice assistants. They designed a 'teachable parasite' that sits on top of the microphone array and emits constant white noise to avoid the Alexa or Google Home listening if the wake word is accidentally triggered. Using a separate customisable wake word to activate the parasite, it quietly activates the assistant underneath for use as normal. This critical piece shows the kind of innovation that can be applied to the current generation of IoT devices to make them more trustworthy. Instructions of how to create this yourself can be found on their GitHub.
Researching alternatives to the corporations, it seemed that an interesting company is Mycroft AI. They develop voice assistant technology that is open and transparent. Their software is open source, available to download for Linux with a special package for Raspberry Pi called PiCroft. They also crowd-funded a Mark I product that shipped 2 years ago powered by a Raspberry Pi 3 board as an 'advanced prototype'. It processed the data on the internal hardware, keeping the information within your four walls while being designed to be customised - it was targeted at developers and enthusiasts comfortable tinkering with it.
The Mark II product is available to pre-order with the same promise of 'open hardware and software'. Interest in the devices seems high with the Mk I sold out, selling 1,500 units at launch and with over 30,000 users, could the future of voice-activated assistants be open source?