Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Can You Hear The Future?

Rhetorical questions do not require answers. The answer is always very clear. Such questions are becoming very commonplace around the subject of speech technology or voice recognition. That’s because such technology will play an increasingly large role in all our lives in the future.

For example, Victor Keegan, in the Guardian asked Has voice recognition finally come of age? He based his positive view on relatively simple examples involving voice technology for note taking. As he said results can be impressive. Indeed this blog post is written with Nuance NaturallySpeaking software and there is rarely need to correct the text produced from my dictation

Michael Sola, Director of IT at the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, wrote in a somewhat similar vein Can you hear me . . . again? He is pointing out that the world is going increasingly mobile. Different people want to handle their messages in different ways. A good proportion would certainly prefer to see them written out. So a speech technology service is inevitable.

Why is this groundswell of opinion on the inevitability of speech technology so strong? The more perceptive observers might point to the considerable efforts that Google seems to be putting into this area. That may well be justification enough for a bullish view. However the underlying reasons are much more straightforward.

David Mould, a Telco Consultant living and working in Thailand, has a keen interest in these emerging technologies. He lays out these reasons in a recent post on Ingredients for a good voice based service for cell phones. Here is what he says on this:

The impact then will be in services that are one or more of:
  • key intensive
  • time intensive

Key intensive activities are those that require many keystrokes, e.g. navigating IVR or text messages. Many handsets today (the Nokia E50 for one) have message readers that provide alternative methods for reading received SMS’s. With the growing restrictions on use of mobile devices whilst driving, a service that allows you to dictate and send an SMS through a voice interface, as opposed to keyboard strokes, could prove to be very popular and useful.
(A key) service, available from other providers such as Jingle Networks (1-800-FREE411), is directory services. You can use the voice interface to search for services and typically will be connected automatically.

A directory search would normally be a time intensive and/or key intensive activity. By creating an access channel via voice, this turns the interaction more into a conversation or discussion. This has the benefit of creating appeal in less technically able groups who look for a more familiar access path.

Key intensive or Time intensive applications are likely to be those most people like to avoid. Any such application based on speech technology with good functionality is likely to see a ready and rapidly expanding market.

Overall if you do not hear the future, perhaps you’re just missing out on the buzz that is all around you.

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