Voice activated technology, alongside virtual reality, seems like the next obvious step in mainstream technology. We are well rehearsed with software like Apple’s Siri and Google Voice, which can do all manner of tasks such as tell us currency conversions and the weather, and larger machines, like the Xbox One, can be controlled through voice activated technology. This type of tech has been around for a number of years now, and in a world that is committed to making everyone’s lives easier with minimal-effort machines and inventions, we look below at why voice activated technology hasn’t become mainstream yet.
Google Voice Search and Siri
One of the most popular forms of voice activated technology is Google Voice. First released as a concept in 2009 as Google Search by Voice for Android, it never really had a suitable device that could make full use of its capabilities. Eventually, with extreme increase in the power of smartphones, Google Voice, much like Siri, allowed users to send texts and emails, make calls or play songs, among other functions. Google Voice later got adapted to also accommodate for desktops as well, becoming Google Voice Search.
Perhaps the other most popular form of voice activated technology is Siri found in iPhones, which offers many of the same features as Google Voice Search, as well as complex photo search and deep caller ID (where Siri will dig through old emails to try and match a phone number with an unknown number).
Who Else Is Using Voice Activated Technology?
There are other innovative technologies out on the market that make used of voice activated software as well, such as the Xbox One as mentioned above or the Amazon Echo, a voice activated speaker. There is also Ivee, an alarm clock, as well as the Sony SmartWatch3 and the Samsung SmartTV. Clearly, a number of big name brands are dipping their hands into voice activated technology and with a range of different products, so why aren’t these technologies common household goods now?
The Difficulties With Voice Activated Technology
It’s an extremely complicated, tough and expensive piece of software. It has to recognise voices, words, accents, grammar, sentence structure, all while filtering out any background noise and the difference in words such as “pain” and “pane”. These struggles mean that it doesn’t work well all the time, commonly misunderstanding what you are asking it. Consumers know that sometimes it is quicker for them to type their question into Google rather than having to repeat themselves several times to Google Voice. The same goes for Siri, who would often think you said “look up some kale” when really you just asked “open up my email”.
It seems that the improvements needed for this problem are still a long way off, with John Nerbonne, a linguist, saying that “speech recognition systems are still markedly inferior to human beings in understanding spoken language.”
Alongside this, people have a natural distrust of machines for important tasks. While things seem to be moving in that direction with inventions like Google’s self-driven car, when it comes to telephone banking, customers are simply not going to want to talk to a voice activated machine on the other end. Companies know this, and fear the loss of revenue if they cut staff and replace them with technology, only to have frustrated customers move their business elsewhere.
People also like to have a personal element to their calls or conversations. A human speaks with varying words, tone, pitch, tempo and a number of other things, it’s difficult to convey this all across when talking to a machine. It’s one thing to programme software to understand language, but getting it to understand the emotion and psychology behind what we say and how we say it is something else entirely.
There is also a risk of security threats. Previously, you could pick up an iPhone 4s, launch Siri while it was still locked and take control of the phone. Small incidents like this make people uneasy knowing that all the creases haven’t yet been ironed out. Coupled with stories of people’s SatNavs sending them the wrong way, customers have a level of distrust in machines compared to a real human being.
All-in-all it seems like all companies are trying to do it, whether it be Apple, Google, Samsung, or Microsoft, but until someone produces a fully-effective, fully-reliable piece of voice activated technology it is unlikely to become mainstream. It’s incredible how far the technology has come in recent years, but it still isn’t quite there just yet.
Next Steps For Voice Activated Technology?
Voice activated technology is rapidly improving year upon year, with some reports listing a 30% improvement within the last 18 months, building on increasing amounts of voice data and better algorithms.
With voice activated lights, blinds, helmets and vacuum cleaners being released into the market, it is clear to see which way the industry is shifting. People are naturally scared and hesitant of new technology, and despite voice activated technology being around for a long time, its wider use in modern society is still a relatively new phenomenon.
This infamous article from Newsweek in 1995 titled ‘Why The Internet Will Fail’ shows how people are sometimes slow to adapt to new technologies, especially when they aren’t perfect. While voice activated technology still suffers problems in understanding what we are saying and returning correct results, people will prefer to keep their trust in themselves. However, with the power and finances of companies like Apple and Google behind developing this software, it won’t be long before voice activated technology hits the mainstream market.