Voice is becoming the new normal, long live the conversation

Do you remember a time before social media when people used to converse and talk? 

Over the last few years these verbal communication skills have declined as everyone became more insular as they “collaborated” online and the most important factor was how many followers you had and what was written on your feed or wall. Real life suddenly took a backseat to what your friends were doing and the obsession with FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) rather than actually living life to the full and talking.

This medium of communication is however starting to fight back and maybe sometime in the future you may hear people talking to each other on public transport rather than staring at their mobile devices with their headphones on.  Initially you may need to decide who your new best friend is from the growing list of virtual assistants be it Alexa, Cortana, Siri, Google or Bixby as your interaction with devices, appliances and even the internet will soon be voice enabled.

In a recent study from IDC it was found that almost 50 percent of new mobile apps use voice as a primary interface and Amazon has even launched Alexa for Business where employees can use Alexa on their own personal devices to make calls, manage their calendars, run to-do lists, set reminders, and locate information stored in third-party corporate applications, such as Salesforce, Concur or Splunk etc. These advances in digital assistants will allow the Intelligent enterprise to enable employees to conversationally interact with key applications and data insights, leverage the capabilities of natural language processing and machine learning to offer a cognitive and conversational user experience where they will be guided through complex workflows and provided insights and suggestions for the next step. . There is even a “Read Aloud” mode natively in the Microsoft Edge Browser.

Gartner has also reaffirmed these changes in their Top 10 Strategic Predictions for 2018 and Beyond in saying that “By 2021, early adopter brands that redesign their websites to support visual and voice search will increase digital commerce revenue by 30 percent” and that by 2019, more than half of all mobile searches will be voice or visual searches.

So in the future don’t forget we all have a voice and don’t necessarily want to sit in silence when we interact with technology

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The Rise of the Machines

Over recent times great advances seem to have been made with the technology behind Intelligent Personal Assistants like the Amazon Alexa however this has been brewing for at least 15 years since search improved from knowledge based and semantic to Artificial Intelligence using natural language.  Only now however are we entering a period where this technology can be leveraged across numerous product lines offering a seamless experience.

One of the starting points on this journey dates back to 2002 when Google launched “Google Voice Search” which enabled users to access the internet via voice commands and later in 2007 True Knowledge launched its Knowledge Answer engine.  In 2011 we saw the launch of Siri by Apple and in 2012 True Knowledge launched a major new product called Evi which was an artificial intelligence program which could be communicated with using natural language (The company was acquired in 2012 by Amazon and the technology became a key part of the Amazon Alexa assistant which debuted in the Amazon Echo).  Over the next few years the full set emerged which we know today (Google Now 2012, Microsoft Cortana and Amazon Alexa in 2014 and Samsung Bixby in 2017) until the technology found a new home outside of the mobile handset.

The issue with the Intelligent Personal Assistant technology however was that it was handset dependant so you were reliant on carrying your mobile device when you needed that injection of inspiration.   One solution was the creation of an always on device which could be placed in open spaces like the Amazon Echo and Google Home.  These however are also reliant on placement but if situated in a prominent place in the house with them constantly listening for command words they certainly can start to bridge the gap although instead of being a mobile device with software loaded they are now a speaker.  So where will this technology go next?  Alexa is already being placed in alternative objects like a lamp (GE Sol is launching the C which is a lamp with Alexa built in – although Dyson may be interested in the similarities to the Cool Desk Fan) and numerous other devices which are Alexa compatible like the Ecobees thermostat are entering the market.  Amazon is also launching a new device called the Amazon Look which also has a camera although initially I am sure there will be concerns on its placement and if this could be hacked like a PC camera to spy on you.  The premise however is that you can take selfies or videos and one use could be to show you how you look in an outfit or for security.

The Innovation is also not coming just from the usual suspects either and the Israel-based Intuition Robotics is developing the virtual assistant specifically for the elderly called ElliQ to deal with users who may experience social isolation and physical inactivity where it will suggest a walk when the weather is nice or say when it’s time to take medication.

Even though the technology is now moving at a tremendous pace there is still one hurdle to overcome before it migrates to the mainstream; verification.  Because the devices are located in open spaces, constantly on and linked to a user’s account with no bio-metric verification unless you live alone you would not want to link the devices to sensitive information like financial or health as anyone could request information.  However once voice verification is cracked the uses will be endless and in addition to the previous what if you could connect to wearables, specific IOT devices and pay for things from nominated accounts, everyone would want one.  This day will not be far away though so dust off those Business Cases and think of the possibilities.