Voice-Based Technology Is Bridging A Generational Divide, And More

Machine learning has long been an important area of study. As we inch towards a future where artificial intelligence is not only commonplace, but also a source of innovation and competition—watch out Google and Intel, because China has its eyes on the prize—machine learning will become even more of a priority. For years, machines have learned without being explicitly programmed through a number of different methods. Yet as functional as that practice has been for machines, they yield different results for humans. Touch is productive, but not efficient; as far as communication goes, humans function better using their voice.

Voice-based technology

Voice-fueled technology is still in its infancy, but its popularity is rising: Amazon’s multi-format Alexa has sold over 15 million units; Google Home trails in second with over 5 million units. These devices are meant to loop together the tenants of personal computing and home practices, allowing you to connect the units to your home’s security system, light system, air/heat and more. They are even slated to appear in your car in the not too distant future, where they’ll be able to start the engine, turn on seat heaters, lock or unlock the doors, and even pushing hands-free technology beyond mere convenience and into personal safety. Ford has already integrated Amazon’s Alexa into their vehicles, allowing their cars to engage with drivers in more intuitive ways.
It’s not just a route towards increased profits; voice activation is looking more and more like a key to the future. Modern voice systems aren’t just command-driven (think “turn on the lights”), but rather built around the nuances of actual multi-stage conversations. This can include everything from questions regarding medication and health diagnoses, the status of important paperwork, dietary concerns and more. As part of a revolution meant to bridge technology and the everyday, voice technology is already shaping up to be an important interface with which the people of the world connect with one another.

Finding Efficiencies

Companies like AstraZeneca, a biopharmaceutical research group, are using voice-command software like Amazon’s Alexa as a tool to help their manufacturing teams work more efficiently. Employees are directing questions regarding standard operating procedure to the software, which is programmed to direct their next steps. At NASA, conference rooms are rarely, if ever, rearranged for different meeting configurations. The company’s efficiency has increased too, thanks largely to Alexa.
What makes voice-command software such a quietly exciting technology, even the face of endless Siri jokes, is that it manages to make good on some of tech’s more utopian promises. The idea that technology is a tool accessible to all, regardless of language, is an ideological hallmark. Although nearly 2.9 billion people around the world own smartphones, there are many who have yet to come into contact with smart interfaces. Communication with and through technology is a necessary part of the modern world, and a need rising at an exponential rate. Yet voice activation is perhaps the first major advantage for those who are looking to have technology ease their way of life without becoming an oppressive part of it.
For instance, the International Rice Research Institute has built a system that helps farmers keep track of the amount of fertilizer they need to apply to their land, which helps both boost product and cut costs. In an effort to simplify the process, the IRR created a cloud-based phone software that could connect to a simple landline. When dialed, the caller can pick from a selection of language options, describe the land they’re working on and figure out exactly how much fertilizer is needed to use for their crops.

What you ask, it will answer

The cloud is a large part of voice-activated technologies. It allows for vast and complex system resources, prompted by the simplest expressions. The key is making them feel real, and the conversations natural and organic. This will of course be harder for a generation that is learning to love text and hate the phone, but as we move more into a screen-based world in which images and gestures are key, voice technology can mediate the gap in between, giving entire generations the ability to participate and find the wealth of promise technology can offer, if only one were to ask.