I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about the role of voice in the future of computing. Whether or not science fiction becomes self-fulfilling prophecies, the genre always assumes we will talk to computers in the future. The building blocks for voice and more importantly, the artificial intelligence engine powering them, are just being built and developed today. However, we have pockets of data and use case examples which help us see the direction this signpost is pointing.
Let’s start with some of our research.
We looked to see what the underlying sentiment behind using voice search today was with average consumers. The vast majority feeling it’s faster. This I think is the key response to hone in on because it speaks deeply to a convenience factor. To begin speaking with our devices there will have to be a dramatic decrease in friction. Since, after all, it is not that hard to pull out our phone and open an app or browser and search for something. But the fact that nearly half of those who regularly use voice search state speed as a factor is telling of what can drive a behavior change.
As a part of the survey, we discovered 56% of smartphone users use voice to search for something every month with 24% of those doing so a few times a week and 12% doing so every day. I track this usage quarterly and will keep an eye on it to see if it trends up and, if so, how quickly we may see a fundamental behavior changing.
I’ll call attention to the car driving statistic. This also signals the convenience in what is both a private environment, a key point to usage, and a need to be hands-free. I’ve articulated before my thoughts on the hands-free computing future where we are free to be more present in the world around us without our faces in screens all day. I’m convinced voice has a role to play here.
When we simplify how we interact with computers to a basic I/O and frame it within the present interfaces being keyboard, mouse, touch, and recently voice, we can frame voice as just another I/O option. But one that may even be more natural than any input/output that has come before it.
This data was related to search and that may be the entry point and first experience for many. But one glaring use case that cements this for me is using, and have my family use, the Amazon Echo. I have about half a dozen things connected to Alexa from my thermostat, light bulbs, car (via the Automatic adapter), door lock, etc. It is much more convenient to say “Alexa, turn off living room lights” or “Alexa, turn off the Christmas tree (a recent use case)”. “Alexa, lock the front door.” “Alexa, how much gas do I have in my car?” Now, certainly all these systems have apps but I cut out a series of steps by simply being able to use my voice to initiate a command. What’s more interesting is how often my wife uses the Echo. She is on the farthest part of the adoption curve and loves to tell me daily how much she hates technology. She married the wrong dude if that’s her conviction. 🙂 However, her adoption of the Echo is really something. It warms my heart when I hear her speaking to the Echo with ease and even more delight when the device actually does what she says! A small anecdote but a very telling one.
These are powerful interactions and voice will open a new input/output paradigm for computers. After all, once our homes are fully connected and all the devices speak to each other, leveraging the resources of one another, our house will actually be a computer.
I consider whoever can play a major role in voice and AI as critical as those who own the operating system of our computers today.