As most of us have come to rely on smartphones as a central point of connection to the world, how we relate to computers is becoming a major point of discussion in the technology space. And the battle over ambient tech – the ecosystem of Internet-connected devices (#IoT) that can respond in real-time to our spoken commands – will be fascinating to watch because it involves the biggest technology companies in the world who are seeking to reshape the very essence of how we live. “We’ve been interacting with computers on their terms,” said Adam Marchick, CEO and co-founder of VoiceLabs. “Ambient is about interacting with them on our terms.”

Marchick spoke at a panel discussion on the future of #ambient computing in San Francisco last Thursday.

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Marchick’s company is a leading voice analytics firm that received mixed news over the past month. In May, VoiceLabs introduced technology for developers to add sponsored messages into #Amazon Alexa’s voice-enabled apps (also called “skills”). It was widely hailed as the beginning of interactive advertising and one of the first opportunities for Alexa developers to make money.

Amazon tightens developer policy

But just last week, VoiceLabs had to suspend the interactive ad network for the Alexa home personal assistant, after Amazon tightened its policy against sponsored content that included voice features which sounded and acted too close to Alexa’s. As Marchick wrote in a company blog post last week, Amazon’s policy change “really drove home that the market is not ready.”

Of course, Amazon is not the only huge tech company swimming in the voice interactive product pool.

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Google Home was introduced last year and Apple introduced the HomePod at the company’s annual developer’s conference earlier this month.

That three of the world’s largest tech elephants are fiercely jockeying for position in the home personal assistant market is testimony to how big this may soon become. “Ambient computing is the next huge opportunity in the industry,” said Aaron Emigh, co-founder and CEO of Brilliant. “And the battle will first be in the home.”

Emigh, who joined Marchick at the panel discussion on Thursday, leads a startup company that launched a touchscreen light switch and smart home controller which will not only dim your lights, but can control other smart devices in the home as well. These include products from Nest, Sonos, Philips Hue, and Ring. It’s also tied to Amazon Alexa, so you’ve got the voice interface built-in.

“What drives ambient computing is the simplicity,” said Emigh, who pointed out that his company is seeking to move beyond cumbersome smartphone-based models which require separate apps for each connected device in the home.

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“We’ve got this moment of temporary insanity right now,” said Brilliant’s CEO.

Both executives expressed sincere belief that the future of computing will be voice interactive, where any place we go offers its capabilities to us and we choose to interact with devices in a normal, conversational tone. “It’s really about interacting with computers in the most natural way,” said Marchick.

Device privacy remains a concern

If there is a looming cloud on the horizon for ambient computing, it most certainly involves personal privacy. Any existing concern among consumers over device security protection is about to get the acid test with the introduction of the Amazon Echo Look, a voice-interactive photo and video camera for bedroom and bathroom that will offer fashion advice. The device is expected to become available later this year.

Marchick pointed out that if a technology becomes wildly popular, such as the smartphone that includes a microphone we carry with us all the time, privacy concerns take a back seat. “The moment there’s a killer app for a device, people give up their privacy with reckless abandon,” said Marchick.

As major companies make big bets on smart, vocal devices in the home, consumers will ultimately decide whether this will be computing’s future or not. And there are a lot of companies in Silicon Valley right now who believe that ambient computing is truly the next big thing.