Voices Carry


Voice is here. I’ve written previously about how handy voice can be and how we’re just at the beginning of what’s possible with voice technology. But what’s next? I was talking with a friend recently who had just finished interacting with my Alexa and he was smitten with how she asked him, “is that AM or PM?” when trying to set an alarm. While I was glad he was enjoying himself, I couldn’t help but comment about how simple some of those interactions really are and that we likely haven’t seen anything yet. He then quickly spun and seemed convinced that voice is probably just a fad and these platforms would die off. Could that really be? I don’t think so and that’s what inspired this writing. Let’s be honest, do we really think individuals, companies and others will stop trying to innovate in the voice space? I hear all the time about how much more helpful our voice assistants are becoming but I’m not as enamored with the current state of things as I am excited about what’s to come.

So, what’s next?

Prepare for the introduction of the voice companion. This may sound dirtier than it is. What we have today are voice assistants. Voice assistants are good; they help us look up information, set timers, schedule meetings or even send text messages – but what they don’t do is strive to understand who we are. Voice assistants have basic skills, don’t think autonomously and react to your verbal queues. Let’s face it, these interactions are directive and reactive. We use utterances with prescribed patterns and hope we can get the words out for a successful command invocation.

How are companions different? A companion knows who you are. You share a common desire to understand one another and your needs become symbiotic. Imagine coming home and instead of asking Alexa a question, you actually check in and tell her about your day. “Alexa, I had a busy afternoon at work. Then I went out and had a few drinks. How about you?” She may provide a simple and whimsical response, “Sounds fun, I’ve just been hanging around”, but what she’s really doing is interpreting your comment and considering your state for the following morning – she’ll decide to not offer to make you coffee because she knows you don’t drink caffeine when you’re feeling hungover or dehydrated. She then leverages her device connection to your smart fridge to let you know there’s filtered water in there as well as the ingredients to make a high protein breakfast.

This may seem like a scene from a science fiction movie but it’s so much closer than we think. With dozens of voice-enabled products announced at CES 2018, we’re quickly trending towards having control and verbal insights into the majority of our most heavily used household appliances. Even startup projects like the Jibo are striving to change the way we think about artificial interactions and gained the attention of larger player LG, who’s sharing in their enthusiasm to sell you a new best friend (they, too introduced several concept robots this year). While there will always be the concern of privacy, I can’t help but think we’ll soon be more in tune with our favorite voice companion than our significant others. Okay, that may be a stretch – but next time you’re sitting in a room with your spouse, friends or kids and everyone is face down in their phones, you’ll realize just how easy it was to fall in love with a new experience.

At UDig we’re excited about voice. We’re helping clients realize new and interesting ways to enable voice interactions to create internal efficiencies, improve customer experience and enhance brand engagement. We are looking forward to the future of this exciting technology.

About The Author

Andrew Duncan is a Director of Software Engineering in Richmond, VA. He is a driven technologist focused on modern technology stacks and best practices. Andrew believes nothing is more rewarding than making software needs a reality with a focus on flexible, scalable and supportable code.