A fundamental shift in how we communicate with computers is coming, according to a new study by J. Walter Thompson Innovation Group London and Mindshare Futures. “Speak Easy: the future answers to you” details how voice is set to become the predominant way we interact with technology, via assistants such as Amazon’s Alexa and smart speakers like China’s LingLong DingDong.
Computers have been able to understand voice for some time, or have at least been trying, illustrated by automated customer support lines. However, thanks to developments in AI and natural language processing, the technology is getting far more accurate. Error rates in speech recognition are now at just 5 percent, which means we are approaching a tipping point in terms of adoption of the technology.
“A lot of people underestimate the difference between 95 percent and 99 percent accuracy in speech recognition… it’s the difference between you hardly using it and using it all the time without thinking about it,” said Andrew Ng, former chief scientist at Baidu, during a lecture at Singularity University in late 2016.
Currently, the technology is mostly being used to perform online searches, with 60 percent of global regular voice tech users claiming to do so, according to the Speak Easy report. However, Ng’s comments suggest that with just 4 percent greater accuracy, the technology could play a far larger role in our lives. And with voice assistant ownership reaching new highs (Amazon’s best selling product across Thanksgiving and Christmas 2017 was its Echo Dot device), everything is in place for the technology to become far more ubiquitous.
The implications of this shift are profound. On the commercial side, businesses will have to rethink the way they relate to their customers by crafting a literal “brand voice.” Companies will have to find ways to promote products that don’t rely so heavily on visuals, and, when AI assistants are in charge of a household’s shopping list, they may have to find ways to advertise to a non-human.
On a broader societal level, voice promises to make interactions with technology more natural and human. The hope is that people will become liberated from being stuck behind a screen, helping them to become more present and in tune with our surroundings.