Hello voice interfaces, goodbye screens and buttons

Posted: 14 June 2016

A massive change is coming in the way that we engage with the electronics that surround us at home, at work and in the built environment. We will be liberated from computer keyboards, touch screens and apps that keep us glued to our smartphones and laptops. Instead, there will be billions of voice-aware products that we will use to talk to get information and entertainment, and manage our everyday tasks.

Voice interfaces are evolving

Initially we will talk to intelligent agents such as Apple Siri, Google Assistant, Facebook M, Microsoft Cortana and Viv using the devices we're familiar with, mobile phones, tablets, laptops, workstations, kiosks. As businesses evolve and consumers become more confident with embedded voice controllers, speech recognition interfaces will spread to ecosystems that enable entertainment systems, communications, home automation and security, based on products like Amazon Echo and Google Home. Finally voice interfaces will become the interface of choice in vehicles, domestic appliances and white goods. Products will no longer have screens and buttons, we will just ask questions, clarify requests and send messages as we move around our homes and offices.

Innovations will be necessary to deliver the products we use every day to manage our work, family and leisure time. Speech and biometric recognition engines will be developed in the Cloud where algorithms can take advantage of the huge processing power available, and services updated regularly to provide better user experience. Voice interfaces will augment, and eventually replace, the buttons and screens we currently use to be control products in our homes and offices. New product categories will proliferate, many of them simple and easy to upgrade so they can take advantage of new services and upgraded technologies as they appear, and not be obsolete in five years.

The barriers are starting to fall

The first steps to voice interface adoption have already been triggered by the launch of Amazon Echo and the latest virtual assistant announcements from Apple, Google, Microsoft, Facebook and Viv. But that is just the start of what is a massively complex set of changes. Legislation will have to be updated to cover personal data, internet security, and child protection. Infrastructure will have to provide internet coverage 100% of the time so security systems are always secure and autonomous vehicles are always connected. Robots will appear in our homes, offices, hospitals and general environnment, which we will have to communicate with. New business models will be developed that will disrupt the monopoly of big technology companies. And so on.

But for people who already use voice instructions on their mobile devices and young children who think that they can swipe any screen they touch, voice is the most natural way to interact with technology. They will be the people driving the innovations, initially as consumers and later as developers, to make voice interfaces the ubiquitous human-interface. No longer will we have to learn the way products work, they will have to learn from us. Everyone will be able to use natural language interfaces to interact with technology that makes our lives easier to manage and enjoy.

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