THE FUTURE IS ALL EARS
Since the launch of Google’s voice search app back in 2008, speech recognition technology has become an integral part of everyday life.
‘Chatbots’, or digital (or voice controlled) assistants such as Siri, Alexa and Echo continue to change the way we interact with devices at home, at work and while driving. And now they’re enabling better business decisions, strategies and solutions across a diversity of industry sectors.
The future of typing won’t involve a laptop, phone or even a keyboard – we are quickly moving to speech technology, which includes voice commands, gesture control and augmented reality.
At the end of 2017, Amazon launched a voice-activated toolkit for the workplace – dubbed Alexa for Business. It would replace common office tasks with verbal commands. Ultimately, it would help individuals and organisations get more work done, more efficiently.
Industry is finding its voice across all sectors
Today, an ever-increasing number of industries are reaping the rewards of speech recognition. From banking to marketing, education to automotive and HR to healthcare, the technology that started out on our mobile phones, in our cars and on our computers is helping to improve a business’s productivity through replacing outdated processes and bringing down costs. It is reimagining the way humans, machines and data interact.
Who’s benefiting and how?
Currently, voice technology is most commonly used to buy everyday essentials such as homeware, toothpaste and binbags. However, as chatbots become smarter, the online shopping experience is getting increasingly more conversational.
These voice assistants (or perhaps that should be personal shopping assistants) will offer suggestions based on a customer’s purchase history – by learning how we search, what we buy and where we shop, digital speech recognition will be able to predict our needs and make life easier.
Speech recognition is also driving the future of auto. From hands-free voice interfaces that remove the distraction of looking down at your mobile phone while you drive, to environmentally-friendly electric cars that utilise technologies – voice-platforms are already redefining in-car experiences, making them safer, smarter and more intuitive. What’s next – automated taxis? You’d better believe it.
The way lessons are taught, and learnt, is changing too – thanks to digital assistants like Beacon at Staffordshire University (the first digital assistant of its kind to be operating at a UK university).
“The chatbot, which can be downloaded in a mobile app, enhances the student experience by answering timetable questions and suggesting societies to join. Beacon can also apply for an exemption from council tax, order new student cards and connect users with lecturers.”
Guardian online 17 April 2019
Beacon enables students to simply use their voice to access online lessons (which are also created by the chatbot) quickly and effectively. Students can chat with Beacon via text or voice conversation, and as use increases, it becomes smarter – it’s not long before it will be able to remind students about classes and deadlines.
In recruitment, chatbots can help to simplify complex and repetitive tasks. For instance, recruiting databases can be searched in full and in turn provide the relevant candidates for specific job profiles. Voice recognition will take over more common HR requests, such as how much overtime an employee has accrued or how many days holiday they have left to take.
Digital assistants will take on administrative tasks allowing human workers to focus on higher-priority projects; and access to necessary information will become faster and easier.
Similar to the benefits within HR, voice technology can collect patient information and maintain e-records in an easier and more effective way. Security could also be enhanced if the digital assistants are the only persons authenticated to access these records and databases.
Indeed, some of the world’s key medical centres are already experimenting with chatbots. Hospitals are using Alexa and other platforms to help with surgical note taking and record keeping. And the technology is intended to play a key role in helping people become more involved in their own health care – Alexa can ask if a patient has “taken their medication today”.
These benefits will be both life-changing and life-enhancing.
Voice technology is finding its way into the legal sector – it has entered the realm of crime-scene investigation. It is currently being trialled by researchers at East Anglia University to reconstruct conversations on film even where there is no sound. Digital assistants are being trained to recognise the appearance and shape of humans’ lips as they form words and sentences. Through these trials, Professor Richard Harvey of the university’s School of Computing Sciences aims to solve ‘one of the most challenging problems in artificial intelligence’.
Phil Goldstein of BizTech states that “banks see great promise in voice-activated solutions… Why tap on your smartphone to get your checking account balance when you can just ask Alexa?”
Chatbots in banking will reduce the need for human customer service representatives and in turn, lower staffing costs. With access to your very own digital banking assistant on your mobile phone customer satisfaction and retention will be enhanced. Just imagine, not ever having to stand in line at the bank ever again!
Listen up – voice technology is everywhere
According to Grand View Research Inc, the speech recognition market will be worth around £25 billion by 2025.
The technology is useful in so many ways. It is now much more than a predictive tool that can help to reorder household essentials with a simple voice command. And the opportunities for businesses are vast – but only if they can optimise for voice search.
A world of ‘ambient assistance’ – where smart devices are omnipresent and ready to answer our needs and questions – is upon us. Our voices are leading the way – and the possibilities are endless.