By Candy Lee
I recently asked Alexa, Amazon’s voice-activated system, three questions: what is the weather today; play me some music that has a jazz beat; and what movies are showing tonight?
Imagine: you stop at a gas station and the pump tells you your windshield wiper is low. You pass a restaurant and are told that the special of the day is now available for under five dollars. Debating between exits on the freeway, you want to know how traffic is looking on an alternate route. In a world without typing, responses are instantaneous. The flying cars and voice commands of the Jetsons and Star Trek are ever closer to our reality.
Voice-activated service isn’t just a gadget; it has enormous technological implications. A new governance is required for a voice activated eco-system, yet the race to create voice programs is still system-specific. Microsoft has Cortana; Apple has Siri; Google has the impersonal “Assistant.”
The role of apps as we know them will fade, in the long run. There are over 2 million apps in Android system and a similar amount in Apple. My Northwestern University students who are asked to create a business plan for a new product almost always default to a new app.
But the obvious disadvantages of touch interfaces are clear: key errors, “fat fingers,” delay while we wait for an upload. Brand-building in this new medium has pain points.
Every person has a unique voice pattern. In a screen built in a home that recognizes both face and voice, even high-security transactions would be validated. To do a money transfer online recently, I was several screens deep, answering old security questions when I finally called on a phone to speak to a live person to approve the transfer. In a voice-activated world, my voice could be recognized by wavelength.
Amazon’s best seller over the holidays were Echo and Echo Dot. These sales heralded a revolutionary change. And a new Alexa addition, “My Starbucks barista” on iOS, allows customers to order lattes and more with voice alone. The business of technology will race to make voice the change that fuels new products. Alexa Voice Services may become the success that Amazon web services is for cloud computing. Amazon is partnering with organizations that have many people traveling to new areas.
Wynn Las Vegas is installing almost 5,000 hotel rooms with devices so that people can speak about room temperature, drapery, television, and light preferences. Ford installs in cars, not just for better driving options, but to prepare homes for receiving returning owners by turning on lights and creating welcoming atmospheres.
The portability of a phone and the desire to take pictures ensures the durability of our pocketed companions. The current model of getting out a phone and typing into it or pushing a button isn’t disappearing — yet.
And the revenue model of search is vital to many organizations who use search as a way to acquire customers. Many own tablets with speech recognition, which has aided slow typists and those with hearing loss who want to avoid lip reading. Speech recognition software involves many disciplines and we tend to presuppose that the computer will not be terrific at recognizing our individual ways of talking. We are ready to use the software to play us music because the wrong music does not impair our lives.
Once again, we are at the beginning of a huge technological change, profound for how we approach technology development in the future. Speech interface with no typing has been a part of science and science fiction for decades. In 2017, it is changing how we interface with the world.
Alexa, what will happen next?