In the News – The Rise of Voice Controlled Computing

The Unblinking Eye

We all – at least those of us of a certain age or proclivity for Stanley Kubrick movies – remember Hal. The Hal 9000 was the on-board computer in the 1968 Kubrick classic 2001: A Space Odyssey that the hero interacted with by voice alone. For display, Hal only offered one red eye that glowed with unvarying consistency. A toggle switch that indicated only that “I’m on,” even when Dave very much wanted it off.

Ignoring the sinister nature of that particular example, how close are we to having a Hal-like assistant that we can turn to for the complex or mundane challenges of our home and work lives? If development and investment activity are any measure then very soon we should indeed be surrounded by devices that will respond to our voice commands more quickly and more helpfully than those voice command systems companies use to provide “customer service” when we call them.

These new voice controlled systems promise to provide interactions that not only recognize what we’re saying, but can serve up articles, images, and video from any source connected to the internet and feed them back to us immediately – and in high-def. And they recognize what we want without prompting us to “say or press 1” first. They proclaim to understand what we want based on how we’d ask for it as if we were asking a friend or colleague – but promise a more informed response.

At the moment of writing companies as varied as Soundhound (a music search and recognition apps company), Apple, Google, Microsoft, Amazon, and Conversant Labs (a company focused on providing solutions for the visually impaired) all have releases planned to deliver on-demand, voice controlled computing solutions. If you doubt that voice-controlled interactions will soon be widely available consider this from Wired magazine’s We’re on the Brink of a Revolution in Crazy-Smart Digital Assistants; Francesco Muzzi; 09/2015 – “It’s a classic story of technological convergence: Advances in processing power, speech recognition, mobile connectivity, cloud computing, and neural networks have all surged to a critical mass at roughly the same time. These tools are finally good enough, cheap enough, and accessible enough to make the conversational interface real – and ubiquitous.”

The Ambility team has more than a passing interest in this trend as we hold intellectual property in a solution for flexibly positioning tablet computers, and with their mobile connectivity and rich display capabilities tablet users seem destined to be one of the main beneficiaries of voice controlled computing. When smart, digital assistants can be provided hands free, the value of hands-free tablet use will multiply.

Unlike the Hal 9000, tablets don’t provide an unblinking red light in response to your queries. They provide whatever best satisfies your need. After all, a voice can provide words in response to what you want, but a picture speaks… Well, you get the idea.

It seems clear that we are still at the very  beginning stages in the world of voice controlled computing and significant barriers stand in the way of widespread adoption – standards of interaction for needs beyond straight searching and integrating voice commands into popular software and applications are just two. But it also seems clear that voice controlled interactions will help to multiply the use cases tablet computers can satisfy at home and in the office. And solutions for positioning tablets for hands-free use across those use cases will become more and more valuable. 

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