Voice recognition software has been a work in progress since the initial trials at Bell Labs in the 1950s, but 2017 seems to be the year where more than 70 years worth of research pays off to deliver products that offer benefits to our daily lives. There have been many false dawns, particularly over the last couple of decades, but Time to Recognise Voice Recognition Software
One of the first popular uses of voice recognition came in 2011 with the launch of Siri on iOS platforms by Apple, which fulfilled the ‘assistant’ role that we had all been led to expect by science fiction films. By simply holding a button down on our ever-present mobile phones, we could ask questions or search for information just by asking. It was no surprise when Google responded quickly with its own Voice Search alternative for Android phones, utilising its own search expertise to deliver more accurate results.
However, it would be wrong to suggest that Siri and Google Voice Search had changed the way we lived. Certainly they changed the way we searched and the way web copy was written, with questions and answers becoming the expected method of searching for information and receiving it, even when using text-based search engines. But stats have shown that while 98% of iPhone users had tried Siri, 70% said they only used it sometimes or rarely, with other device users reporting similar levels of engagements.
Amazon looks to have changed all that though, with its Echo smart speakers and Alexa voice recognition software, which has been available in the USA since 2015 and the UK since November 2016. By February of this year it had already surpassed the 8 million mark in sales, and while the ability to get it to play music via voice command is certainly a selling point (hindered slightly by the average quality of the speaker), data so far has suggested that more users are taking advantage of its ability to give information.
Google is certainly hoping that is the case, having launched its rival Google Home product last year in the USA and this month in the UK. As with Voice Search, Google is hoping that its search capabilities and experience will help its voice recognition software deliver better, more helpful results than Alexa, and reviews seem to be confirming that this is the case. Both products also integrate with smart home functionalities, and while few of us will be able to ask our voice assistants to dim the lights and have it actually work any time soon, it’s not something that exists only in the realms of science fiction anymore.
What is unusual about voice recognition software is that it’s new technology that seems to appeal to older audiences just as much as younger ones. Indeed, the ability to simply ask a question and receive an answer or to instruct it to raise or lower the temperature in the house is the kind of service that is particularly useful for older people. You can expect to see more and more products aimed at those in retirement communities utilising voice recognition software for that reason. OAPs as early adopters? Believe it.
The huge success of the Amazon Echo has shown manufacturers and developers that voice recognition is more than a gimmick and that it can be embraced by the masses as the hub of a smart home, so we will no doubt see much more integration over the next 12 months as the possibilities of the software continue to be explored. The competition between Amazon and Google will throw up some hurdles as each looks to offer exclusivity over services – like Amazon’s deal with Sonos speakers – and that may be off-putting for those looking for a solution that does everything they need.
Another issue remains one of privacy, with questions over how much data about the users is being filtered back to the companies in control of these devices, while some potential users will be put off by the idea of a contraption sitting in their kitchen listening to their conversations. The concept of smart homes also has its more dystopian theories suggesting that humans will soon be in thrall to the machines that run our lives, but Alexa is currently a long way away from being Skynet.
One thing no-one can disagree on is that voice recognition software has made massive leaps in the last 12 months. Only time will tell whether the functionality can continue to grow enough to ensure that it really can become an integral part of human life or gets consigned to history as a fad for people too lazy to use their mobiles to play music or control the central heating. But with HMRC implementing voice recognition software as part of its security measures, it does seem like we are entering the age of the voice.
Do you have an Amazon Echo or Google Home? What do you think the possibilities are for voice recognition software over the next 12 months? Leave your thoughts in the comment section below or share your opinions with us on Twitter @mporium.