First there were keyboards, then touchscreen keyboards. Could our voices be the standard for how we ‘type’, and what are the challenges behind this technology?
Voice recognition has always been a nifty way to put speech to text, but often relegated as a novelty tool, or option for those with disabilities that inhibit their ability to type. That might change soon though, as smartphone manufacturers and developers continue to innovate in ways to incorporate voice recognition into their devices. Already new ideas are emerging to enable users to unlock their phones, enter information and interact seamlessly without touching a thing.
Turning someone's voice into text or a command is an idea that’s been around for a while, and has been seen on TV shows like Star Trek. There has also been a lot of experimentation with it and personal computers. In recent years, the real interest in smartphones and voice recognition took off with the launch of Apple’s Siri and Google’s Now as personal assistant services in 2011. Ever since, Google, Apple and major smartphone manufacturers such as Lenovo have been developing new ways to incorporate voice recognition technology and services into their hardware. For example, now on some Lenovo smartphones you can unlock your phone using your voice as 'voiceprint' to verify the authenticity of the owner.
As new technologies like big data are incorporated into smartphones via the internet, we can now use even more powerful services inside voice recognition, improve accuracy and add new online services through our voices, rather than type in additional information. With all this in mind, the question now emerges whether we can really automate entire devices and systems through voice commands alone, and how user-friendly such an experience would be.
Take, for example, Amazon's new personal assistant device, the Amazon Echo. The cylindrical device can handle everything from ordering more toilet paper to reading from your audiobooks, or even handling intricate tasks, like booking a flight. The Amazon Echo is an impressive example, but not yet a smartphone. However, much of what makes the Echo work is its Amazon servers and systems, not the physical hardware inside the device.
Innovation with big data and other large-scale information systems continues to be essential for voice recognition success. Lenovo, for example, has made this possible through a partnership with the Chinese search giant Baidu, who helps Lenovo design and implement deep learning systems which can support complex voice recognition functionality, such as unlocking a phone.
It will be a continuing challenge between hardware and software developers like Lenovo and Baidu to figure out the ways that smartphones can effectively interpret any command or action via voice without errors or typos. But voice recognition has more concerns than technology alone. There's a stigma behind using voice recognition, as not everything you type or say is something you want others nearby to hear. Plus it could be disturbing to co-workers, fellow passengers and others when using voice recognition, and awkward compared to the quieter process of typing.
Voice recognition continues to be a source of innovation, and we'll likely see more improvements on the technology in the years ahead, especially as specialisation continues in bringing new, specific features to smartphones and other devices. Ideas like 'voiceprints' for smartphones and devices like the Amazon Echo are just the beginning for a bright future in voice recognition.
Does this mean typing is over? Probably not, since it's a habit among so many in their day-to-day work, but it's easy to imagine the opportunities in the years ahead as voice recognition technology continues evolving.
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