Photo by Kevin Bhagat on Unsplash

Talking the Talk: Where Voice Control Is Taking Us

Alexa, Siri, Cortana, Google’s unnamed voice assistant… The list of voice controlled systems and their associated home-ready devices is growing. And alongside that growth is a fair bit of ink spent discussing the myriad benefits and occasional failings of these creations, and a glut of videos showcasing their abilities (and odd quirks). But they’re about to occupy much more than several inches of column space in our newspapers and a few inches of counter space in our homes. The voice revolution is upon us.

Myplanet Advisor Leslie Shannon (Head of Ecosystem and Trends Scouting at Nokia) recently spoke with us about the role of voice assistants and the way they are rapidly changing the digital spaces we encounter every day — perhaps more rapidly than we realize.

“Voice digital assistants are being picked up faster than smartphones originally picked up in the United States,” she says. That’s an astonishing rate of adoption, with at least one in five Americans already in possession of a voice digital assistant. “The voice assistant has been able to become the defacto home IoT hub that so many companies are trying to take the space of, and that’s part of why their role is so important,” she adds.

Part of the runaway success voice control devices have had in our private lives of late is the ease with which voice control can fit into those areas we control. Our homes and our cars, the places we’ve seen the greatest inroads with voice so far, are very much our domains. It blends seamlessly into our routines to use voice commands when we need our hands and eyes free — when we’re driving, or baking, or giving the baby a bath.

But what should we really be expecting from voice controlled devices outside of those realms of personal control? How realistic is a future where we interact with machines primarily by voice for everything, from buying groceries to working the assembly line to directing exploratory mining expeditions? Just how much a part of our lives we should expect voice controlled devices to be?

Voicing Concerns

One of the major areas where we haven’t seen a lot of voice growth yet but expect to in the near future is the workplace. The opportunity for change is massive and it’s only a matter of time before the voice takeover happens there, too. But it hasn’t happened yet (at least, not to the degree that it has in our homes). One major reason for that? Noise.

“In open-plan offices, we’re not going to see voice doing as much because of cross-contamination,” says Shannon. “The noise factor will be prohibitive.” But with voice growing as much as it is in private spheres, it’s only a matter of time before it finds its way into public spaces as well. People will get used to using Alexa or their Google Home devices to accomplish tasks and offices will be forced to follow suit. And there are a few ways this will happen.

One way offices will use voice control systems is for what Shannon describes as the “fiddly stuff”: things like setting up conference rooms for presentations, getting the calls and projectors and lights on with a simple voice command where the room itself is private enough to have the noise concern be a non-issue. Who wouldn’t want to say “set up for presentation” and have the lights dim and the system connect without any complex input commands? Any situation requiring a repeatable but somewhat infrequent set of tasks normally accomplished through a screen will be fast-tracked using voice control.

Photo by Andres Urena on Unsplash

“It’s not just a cool new interface,” notes Shannon. “It really changes the way you interact with things. It brings in radical efficiency.” Which means regardless of sound implications, it’s clear that voice commands are going to find their way into the workplace. It’s simply too obvious, too easy, too manifestly more efficient to be overlooked much longer.

These are the same factors that mean voice control is going to be a powerful tool for HR and IT departments. A set series of tasks that must be gone through, but for the most part the users going through them are unfamiliar with the process. We’re already seeing chatbots and conversational UI entering these spaces with success. Voice is going to be the natural progression of that already changing space.

Sounding Off

“Even though voice is too disruptive to be in an office for the most part, AR/VR will serve as an inroad for voice to workplaces. We’re seeing it already,” says Shannon. The growth of AR/VR in concert with the rapid rise of voice controlled devices is no accident. And it’s going to be a big factor and gaining traction in work environments where employees need to get information at the same time that their hands are doing something.

In manufacturing settings, for example, it makes a lot of sense to use AR headsets to enable employees to see how Item A connects to Item B and to use the voice to cue it, allowing their hands to actually do the work.

“Elevator repair people, HVAC technicians, field technicians of all sorts that might need to refer to some kind of a manual but have their hands full of stuff — it’s a very compelling use case for AR & voice together,” says Shannon.

And this extends back to the consumer space, too. Think of a company like IKEA offering instructions through an AR headset, so you can build the complicated furniture you bought with the information in front of you as you go, advancing steps and asking questions without needing to put the shelf you’re holding in place down.

Money Talks

The future of voice controlled interactions is wide open. We’re already seeing incredibly practical applications in the wild and the uptake on them is nothing short of remarkable. But when it comes to enterprise scale adoption, is the cost of investment going to be a barrier?

For things like AR/VR headsets, cost might be a blocker for a time. But the radical improvements in efficiency the voice applications offer mean it likely won’t be a barrier for long. The ease of use and the simplicity in the interaction are compelling features — voice commands require very little in the way of training and expand accessibility to tools as never before. Those are huge cost savings for an enterprise, in the end.

And for those “fiddly things” in offices (like getting the conference room set up with ease) it likely won’t be that much of an investment to begin with. “It’s an add-on, an easy overlay to existing surfaces and services,” notes Shannon. But more importantly, it’s a long-term investment that’s well worth it.

Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

As chatbots are already starting to bear out, there are specific use cases for more conversational interactions that save everyone time, money, and scads of frustration (which cost even more time and money when not addressed). “Practically every company out there has a spaghetti back-end that a chatbot would be a lifesaver for. And for training — all of these technologies [conversational UI in all its forms] are very good for training.”

Right now, interaction is through the screen and the keyboard, but Shannon believes our interfaces are going to change — and voice is going to be an essential part of that. “There are all kinds of benefits to a voice interface: typing gives you between 40 and 100 words per minute. Speaking is 150 words a minute,” she highlights.

Because of its efficiency and openness — and that its accessible to everyone without training — voice is going to refigure the way we connect to our devices in major ways. “Figuring out how to navigate the courtesy aspect is a part of it,” she concludes, “but I’m confident 15 years from we’re just not going to be using keyboards.”

Interested in exploring how voice control and CUI can help you solve your business problems? Connect with our team today and discover what’s possible.