The Voice Summit 2018 Round Up

The end of July saw the largest voice conference of the year hit Newark, bringing the global voice community together at the New Jersey Institute of Technology. With over 2,000 attendee’s filling more than 200 sessions in what was a highly exciting three-day summit.

The event did not disappoint.

There were sooooo many sessions, a few I wanted to attend but couldn’t due to timing conflicts though I believe all the sessions will be online in the near future.


I write this at the end of three days of “voice is awesome, and we will be in a voice first world imminently” so bear in mind I am fresh off significant voice cool-aid as I write this.


Voice First World — David Isbitski

Opening the summit is David Isbitski, the chief evangelist of Amazon Alexa, a great speaker and advocate of voice technology. David shared the crazy growth numbers of voice across all markets and how a voice first world is getting closer and closer, maybe at speed even the mighty Amazon didn’t predict. David shared many interesting points, but the key takeaway for me concerning what got me into voice was that the fastest growing Alexa skill areas are those aimed at children.

Children are voice natives; they expect that they will talk to their things/technology, arguably they won’t even realise what technology is in their future as it fades away into everything we purchase.


How to create a successful voice search strategy and Brand Persona — Duane Forrester

Duane has an impressive history working across Microsoft and Google and now at Yext. Duane spoke about the importance of SEO in a voice world today. Until we have voice created content, the voice devices we used from our phones to our smart speakers need to get their information from the internet and websites and search engines that have had years of authority are where this information is sourced.

Those with this top result position will need to ensure their information is voice optimised if they want to remain at the leading position as the world moves to voice experiences.


Voice UX Best Practices (Nathan Treloar, Emmerson Sklar, Ian Botts, Ben Anderson)

I want to speak to Ian for hours.


Survive the Shift to a Voice-First World — Doug Robinson

Maybe the most articulate talk I heard over the summit, Doug shared the work he and his company have been doing for brands across the USA but more importantly showing how new voice is to businesses.

His company has so many of their own voice skills as brands still fail to see the voice opportunity ahead of them.

Doug’s unofficial NFL skills shared some fascinating insight into the complex behaviour of users, they anticipated that people would use the skill before a game or after the game but were surprised about the levels of use during the game.

As Doug shares his experiences of deploying over 700 skills you can see that insight into the behaviour of users is still hard to evaluate with limited tooling. Doug was asked when it will be too late to get into voice, when will voice have its 2008–10 mobile app period.

The answer. October, you have until October.


Do you understand the words that are coming out of my mouth — Janeen Uzzell

Janeen presented a compelling and fascinating talk on biases and how all decisions have a basis to them. Janeen spoke about how she was a part of a small team, that were building a handheld ultrasound device for the African market. When they took the machine to Africa to show people, the feedback was, we need a handle to carry it, don’t make it white because it will get dirty, and people won’t trust it.

All the things that they could have learnt if they spoke to the people sooner in the product development process. Though this talk was less focused on voice technology, it raised the crucial point of bias in the software and algorithms we build.

There is a need to ensure our data for training algorithms is diverse to provide our customers a great experience. But also to ensure our technology works for new customers that we may not even know yet.

Janeen made me think about my own biases and how we need to remember that we all have them. As builders of technology we need to be conscious of them as we build things for millions of people across the globe.


MyCroft, The Open Source Assistant — Joshua Montgomery

Joshua led with an excellent source of data showing now voice is quickly becoming the technology of history that will show the quickest adoption of all time.

Joshua painted a passionate story of voice and his concerns of voice dominance by Amazon and Google and why voice is too critical to the future of technology to be controlled by the few and the few that are driven to sell you products or ads.

MyCroft is an open source and user first voice assistant that aims to create an AI voice assistant that can pass the Turing test and do so with user privacy, security and control as a first-class citizen. Joshua discussed their partnerships with Mozilla’s common voice initiative (awesome btw) and voiceitt (also excellent) to add support to the MyCroft smart speaker.

Joshua is on a mission to open up the voice assistant market to give users another option.


Voice Commerce — Bret Kinsella

Bret shared the recent results of his voice commerce survey, the data from the report (which you can find here) was insightful. Mainly that the general assumption is that voice will be used to re-order items but in fact, a first order by voice is as likely as a reorder, showing that voice-first commerce maybe a thing.

Though the data also showed how new voice is, with reported commerce numbers at the $2 billion range, it is still a small market currently.


Playing with Artificial Empathy — James Poulter

Starting your talk with an Only Fools and Horses gif always ensures a great talk and James’ was no exception. James works at LEGO, he spoke about the Lego Dupo Alexa game, he touched on the topic of Artificial Empathy and how we can both play and use voice to engage with the physical world.

Especially for our kid’s generation there is a desire and will soon be a need to reduce or remove screen time. Voice can create a solution to this whilst also providing engagement and delight with our real world as we all look to be always connected.

Though personally my take away was to turn the tech off and take some Lego out to the park and play.


A Voice Native World — Ken Jeanos

Panasonic is the largest battery maker in the world and partnered with Tesla with the Tesla batteries from their Nevada Giga factory. Interesting to know.


A New Era with New Business Opportunities — Tim Kahle

Tim shared a few industries and use-cases he sees voice will start to gain traction with, an excellent presentation that included some German humour and a shout out for their European voice conference in Munich in October (looking forward too).

Tim talked in particular about how simple skills are essential to engagement, his company 169labs created an animal sounds skill which follows the simple is best. The skill plays animal sounds as a way for kids to learn what animals sound like, with over 500,000 monthly users to their skill they have data of what works and doesn’t. The most important thing was they got to P0, position 0 in the Alexa skill store, so if you say “Alexa, what does a dog sound like” you will get a preview of their skill.

Take away is don’t build an animal sound skill, they have it nailed.


Epic fails — Dave Witting

Dave’s talk had many heads nodding in the audience of those who shared his pain in voice app development. His key lessons from building skills were not to over complicate the functionality or the idea you have.

If you do get carried away with features it maybe better to split your idea into four separate skills rather than one.

Dave ended with how If you build it, they won’t come and the importance of getting attention for your skills is as significant if not more than that we see in the current mobile app market.


The Art of AI — Noelle LaCharite

Noelle spoke about how speech services are within the grasp of all developers to build great things and how you can add voice to any application. If you don’t get excited about AI and voice after listening to Noelle, there is something wrong with you.

Noelle shared a project she had worked on of how easy you can extract key entities from a large volume of unstructured data sources, in this case the released FBI files on the JFK assassination.


Panel: The voice of retail — Ethan Goodman, Shilp Agarwal, Adam Marchick

Retail is an exciting area for voice especially when the two dominant players being Amazon (commerce giant) and Google (Advertising giant).

The panel shared how brands and retailers will need to see their marketing as experiences rather than adverts so that when you’re asking for batteries, will you ask for energiser batteries and if you do will Amazon pick them or Amazon basics, voice is a new battleground for commerce.

Brands need to become the leader of content in their space. If you ask Alexa what the best SUV at the moment is, the top result is for Toyota, so they get first run at earning that customer.


Conclusion

What a few days, all the cool-aid drunken, voice is here and here to stay if not for those in their 20s or 30s but the next generation who see voice already as a default.

Though the numbers of what revenue or growth voice is or will drive by 2025 are wildly varied, the answer is clear that voice is growing and at whatever pace it will continue too.


Thank you to modev for the event, thank you for NJIT for hosting and thank you Newark, it has been a pleasure to see your city however brief.