Teaching voice assistants to talk

From voice to language

The word voice has taken on a whole new meaning in the wake of voice assistants. But what is the true meaning of the word?


Definition: The sound produced from the lungs and voice box.

Voice is sounds. Sounds without any real meaning — the simplest form of communication. Voice acts as the basis for speech.


Definition: Expression of thoughts, feelings and ideas created by the voice.

Speech is the sense we make of voice. It’s the layer of empathy and self awareness. At this point, we’re still thinking on an individual basis. For this to become a real interaction, we must master language.


Definition: Communication of knowledge, beliefs and behaviour within a group or community.

Language is the moment at which speech becomes part of a shared system. And the biggest challenge? Context.

Context varies across different cultures, socio-economic groups, age, to name a few. Pragmatics defines the way in which context contributes to meaning. At what point will “I give you the green light” take pragmatics into consideration and give us what we need?

Voice technology is in its infancy. At the moment, its a gurgle we attach meaning to. How might we teach voice assistants language? If we nurture it like an infant, can we teach it to learn context?