April 12, 2019

Credit: Mark Kauzlarich/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Technology has become more hands-free, thanks to voice-activated digital assistants like Alexa and Siri. Have a question? Ask away. But in the future it won’t be just a matter of using this technology to find out facts or to determine the best route home. James Vlahos, author of “Talk to Me - How Voice Computing Will Transform the Way We Live, Work and Think,” explains how companies are trying to make the Alexas and Siris of the world more sociable. Voice tech that can apply background knowledge and understand context will be able to have more complex conversations with users. Vlahos says that these devices will create a more human-like experience, and could be used in customer service, healthcare, counseling and industries which require a robot with a more social side.

Three Takeaways:

  • We’ve built technology like Watson, Alexa, and Siri that are great at quickly answering fact-based questions. But these bots aren’t advanced enough to truly understand what someone is saying. We haven’t reached the point yet where we can have a multi-faceted conversation. But companies like Amazon, which is hosting a competition called the Alexa Prize, are trying to make voice technology capable of more social interaction and understanding.
  • James Vlahos believes that voice technology will become ubiquitous in our environment and daily lives. Alexa systems are already being built into refrigerators, cars, and toilets, enabling us to use a computer without being tethered to it. Vlahos thinks that the rising integration and pervasiveness of voice computing will be increasingly accepted, as new generations grow up side-by-side with the technology.
  • It won’t be a completely hands-free voice-controlled world, though, since voice tech has its limits. But as the Alexas of the world become better at social interactions, they can start to replace screens in applications that require more of a human touch, like customer service.

More Reading:

  • Read how James Vlahos used voice tech to give his dying father “immortality.”
  • How far will voice technology go? A toilet with a built-in Alexa voice system is up for sale, along with other Alexa-activated appliances.
  • Do we have any privacy if Alexa always seems to be listening in? Slate looks at the intersection between voice tech and security.

Alexa, James Vlahos, Sci and Tech, Apple, Amazon, Voice technology, Siri

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