The browser has always been a staple of the internet experience, providing a gateway to unlimited pieces of information in a visually-pleasing manner. While Microsoft’s Internet Explorer and Google Chrome have often been bandied about as being the browser, there are a whole host of options with some tackling specific problems based on technology at the time. For instance, Flock emerged in 2005 as the “social browser”, offering a take on how social networks could be integrated into the browser.
In today’s crowded marketplace, browser makers are jockeying for pole position, finding any leverage they can, be it faster load times, security and privacy, browser extensions, and more. Google boasts Chrome’s speed, simplicity, and integration with its suite of tools while Microsoft touts its new Edge browser as the tool made for touchscreens and the way we compute. On the other hand, Mozilla’s Firefox browser has earned a reputation for security and data protection. With the changing tide of technology now comes another take on the browser, one not banking on social networking, but rather voice assistants.
Earlier this month, CNET reported on Mozilla’s plan to explore the use of someone’s voice to navigate the internet. The company had set up a meeting to investigate whether “browsing and consuming content with voice” was feasible. As the saying goes, it’s still “early days” so it’s unclear whether this tool will be available on the market, but there are some thoughts about why another browser is needed from Mozilla when Firefox is doing fairly well.
The voice-powered internet age
Called Scout, Mozilla’s potential new browser would launch in a time when AI assistants are flooding the market, led by Amazon’s Alexa, Google’s Assistant, Apple’s Siri, Microsoft’s Cortana, and to a certain degree Samsung’s Bixby. There’s no evidence to suggest that Scout will actually happen since right now all that we’ve heard is of an all-hands meeting that took place last week, but remember how browsers are adapting to the technology changes? Scout could be the first voice-powered internet browser, compatible not only with phones, tablets, laptops, and computers but perhaps also within smart televisions and maybe within connected devices themselves.
Those with disabilities may benefit from voice-powered internet browsing such as those visually-impaired or have some other handicap. Improving browser accessibility certainly fits into the mission of Mozilla’s foundation, which lists making the internet a “global public resource that is open and accessible to all.”
It’s probably best to view Mozilla’s Scout browser as merely a proof-of-concept, something that’ll allow it to test the company’s theories about the adoption of voice commands within browsers to see if it’s something that can be added to Firefox sometime in the future.
What AI assistant?
Be that as it may, slapping on voice commands isn’t that simple because Mozilla will need to explore what kind of technology it’ll need to use. Unlike its competitors, Mozilla doesn’t have its own assistant, so will it partner up with Samsung, Amazon, Microsoft, or Google — or will it spend the time and resources to build its own, either via acquisition or maybe it’s already working on something? In 2017, Mozilla started crowdsourcing an open-source AI initiative called Common Voice so that technology may prove useful.
Mozilla has made a name for itself as a steward of security, data privacy, and open source, so selecting an AI assistant will require considerable thought. After all, many of the popular choices have found themselves caught up in privacy scandals as of late, and the companies making them have been scrutinized by Mozilla over privacy, related to their own browsers.
While we may draw conclusions suggesting that Mozilla would tap its AI assistant to help us control connected devices in the home and all the helpful things often touted by smart technologies, the truth might be that Mozilla is only exploring the use of voice to simply navigate the internet, accessing web pages, doing searches, launching video chats, uploading photos, and more.
Should voice technology come to Mozilla, be it through Firefox or a new standalone browser, one selling point for users might be that internet browsing has been made a bit easier, while another is that users can be sure that what they’re telling their browser stays secure, unlike others where you really don’t know who’s listening.
It’s curious (not necessarily in a bad way) to see Mozilla explore voice-controlled internet browsing as competitors like Apple’s Safari are moving in the direction of restoring user privacy. Whatever Mozilla does, fans will likely remain watchful to see how their data and information remains secure as their browsing experience becomes more interactive and convenient. Is there a balance that can be had between advanced features along with the bells and whistles that we find “sexy” versus feeling that we’re not being spied on by corporations or third-parties?
Hopefully Mozilla doesn’t forget this.