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Say it loud: The rise of human voices in technology

January 09, 2018

How would you like to tell your TV to put on some Stranger Things, please? Or maybe you already ask your smartphone for the weather while you’re making your morning coffee. Voice recognition technology has improved by leaps and bounds, with the rise of voice-activated apps and gadgets that are slicker and more intuitive than ever.

Nowhere is that more true than in the smart home. Voice technology is set to become an integral way for people to interact with connected appliances from light bulbs to smart TVs. Cox Contour has a voice-friendly remote control that allows you to not only tell your TV what show or channel you want to watch, but you can also ask it to display recommendations or a schedule of upcoming sports games. If you have an idea of what you’re in the mood for, you can request a list of movies with Anne Hathaway, say, or ask for “more like Frozen.”

In other parts of the home, the Amazon Echo is an increasingly widespread smart hub and wireless speaker that you can command to carry out tasks such as reading out the day’s headlines, setting a timer while you slide a roast into the oven or dimming those smart lights as you settle in for an on-demand movie.

Gartner research notes that “the human voice plays a powerful role in enabling a natural and intuitive user interface for devices.” The high accuracy of voice assistants such as Google Assistant and Microsoft’s Cortana has changed the way we are able to speak to our devices, leading a shift towards more natural speech. Nearly 70 percent of voice commands to Google phones, for example, are made in conversational language – it’s the difference between asking your smartphone to “wake me up in half an hour” and delivering the stilted command to “set alarm for four-thirty-five pm.”

When it comes to communication with other people, our voices contain a multitude of nuances that are tough to get across in emails and texts (yes, even the emoji-laden ones). Where text messages might cause anxiety due to their lack of emotional cues, hearing someone’s voice has been shown to reveal clues ranging from their state of mind to their physical appearance. In multinational offices where teams may be spread across the globe, a voice memo can be a friendlier, more effective way to get things done — without someone misunderstanding the intent of a tersely worded instruction.

For WhatsApp users in Buenos Aires, voice memos are increasingly replacing texting, partly due to the ability to communicate intent and the practicality of being able to send a message while driving or walking. Voice commands let us use our gadgets without having to devote our attention to them, allowing us to multitask with technology while liberating us from our screens (and the distractions therein).

Composing a message using your voice instead of a keyboard can be quicker too — one study found that dictating a message was three times faster than typing it, while in China, the majority of instant messenger users send audio messages that are speedier to record than type in Chinese characters.

Today, one in five Google searches on phones are made using voice commands; by 2020, half of all searches might be made by voice. Speaking to our technology makes for a more intuitive experience, one that requires less cognitive power to process— and expect — technology that is not only efficient and convenient, but natural and fun. Want to watch an Arnie flick? Try saying “Hasta la vista, baby” to that Contour remote.

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