• John Ennis

Eye on AI - December 4th, 2020

Welcome to Aigora's "Eye on AI" series, where we round up exciting news at the intersection of consumer science and artificial intelligence!

This week, we’ll be taking an in-depth look at the transformative impact of voice-tech AI: where it is, where it’s going, and how it’s poised to alter the very fabric of humanity.


Enjoy!


Voice-Tech Positioned to Become Post-Pandemic Technology Standard



We turn our focus this week to an article out of Entrepreneur, titled “Why Voice Tech Will Be the Post-Crisis Standard -- and Not Just for Ordering Pizza,” which describes how voice technology, thanks to a convergence of technology, necessity, demographic shifts, is poised to become the user interface of the future.


Decades of advancement in AI-driven natural-language-processing, speech recognition, computing horsepower, and wireless networking led voice tech to where it is today, giving us the ability to converse intelligently with our devices –– I’m using “intelligently” loosely here, since most of us only use voice tech for things like pizza delivery or basic trivia (“Hey Siri, is Dr. Seuss a real doctor?”). Yet researchers believe we’re just beginning to scratch the surface of this technology’s potential.


“Before long, we’ll all be conversing with our devices pretty much non-stop, and to do much more than just set timers and fetch weather reports,” writes Entrepreneur contributor Shafin Tejani. “And much like the desktop software industry back in the day and smartphone apps after that, a multibillion-dollar business ecosystem is about to surge around voice tech — at least, for entrepreneurs and businesses ready to ride the voice wave.”

The reason, notes Tejani, largely has to do with voice tech’s ease of use. It’s not exactly a user interface (UI) in the traditional sense, as it involves a more natural, human-like interaction (i.e. conversation); furthermore, it’s constantly analyzing and re-training itself on data input, essentially training itself to better understand how you work rather than the other way around with traditional UI (as opposed to the other way around with traditional UIs. For users, this means the barrier of entry is remarkably low––all you need is a voice and voice-ready device, and you’re set!


Like the iPhone & Internet, Voice-Tech Is Reshaping Humanity



And yet, voice-tech isn’t necessarily new. It’s actually been around for a while (remember those early Siri days, when every other word was misunderstood?). But it developed slowly, largely because of the cost for development and lacking AI. Tech giants dominated the space early, and will almost certainly continue to dominate the voice platform space as their tech and investments continue to improve. But like the iPhone with apps before, voice platforms soon began allowing developers to contribute through 3rd party additions, accelerating capabilities.


“Just as the iPhone gave birth to a $6.3 trillion dollar mobile app economy, platforms like Alexa and Google Assistant have already created opportunities for developers to create more than 100,000 Alexa “skills” and 4000 Google Assistant apps or actions,” continues Tejani. “In the years ahead, that ecosystem will likely grow to rival traditional apps in number and value.”

Continued platform AI development, coupled with 3rd party advances, means that voice tech is just now beginning to explode with new and exciting potential. Amazon and Google recently filed patents for technology to read emotions in people’s voices to take their voice technology even further, giving marketers the opportunity to advertise products that suit a customer’s emotion at any given moment (“You sound anxious — how about a meditation session with Calm?”). Other advances have allowed researchers to identify diseases or asymptomatic coronavirus infections through voice inflations, or even help ease the pain of loneliness and isolation associated with the pandemic.


“When this year’s pandemic locked millions down into isolation, hundreds of thousands downloaded Replika, a chatbot phone app that provides friendship and human-like conversation,” adds Tejani. “People can develop genuine attachment to conversant machines, as seniors do with Zora, a human-controlled robot caregiver.”

Already we’re seeing an expansion of voice in nearly all aspects of life. Sales of smart speakers increased by 70% between 2018 and 2019. Wearables (wearable devices that offer voice assistance) continue expanding, with Amazon releasing their latest addition in Alexa-enabled glasses frames next month. The voice and speech recognition market is expected to grow at a 17.2% compound annualized rate to reach $26.8 billion by 2025. As the technology improves, it will continue to expand into more and more aspects of our lives like smartphones and the internet before, not only disrupting the business world, but reshaping the very fabric of human life. Hope you’re buckled up.



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