When Automated Speech Became Fancy

It’s 1999. The dreaded millennium countdown is on. Will my debit card work on January 1, 2000? Will my computer turn on? Will the stores be closed because retail systems will shut down at the stroke of midnight on December 31, 1999? Ack!!! Stock up, buy water, hunker down – all is lost, all is LOST!!

Fear not – our beloved computers found a way! Oh ye of little faith – we (the IT gurus, developers, coders, programmers) – we knew all along there was nothing to worry about. Move along. Next topic. So we cleared that hurdle – whew. But look at where we have come since then. Fifteen years; and where are we now?

Well… our computers are smaller (and thank goodness our monitors no longer take up half our desks); they process faster, hold more data, and connect to more wireless networks; Outlook finally got it together, and even PowerPoint seems to cause fewer help desk queries these days. Oh, and of course Apple took over the world, and our cell phones became the brains of the operation (and the price of our first car). We touch our screens, carry one device (no more palm pilots, pagers, car phones), and expect to be connected in every coffee shop, airport, and mall.

But we knew all of that was coming, right? I mean, what was the high tech bubble really about if not to employ us to build every component of the computer and smart phone smaller and smaller until it fit on the head of a pin? And improve the speed of processing and storage until we couldn’t fit one more iota of data on the end of a pencil? And of course build out the wireless networks to every nook and cranny of our living space?

Does anything really surprise us anymore? I recently attended a healthcare technology showcase where a talking robot approached me and asked me how I was. When did that happen? Robots, yes – but talking robots that ask us how we are? When did intelligent two way automated speech get so fancy? Well let’s see.

We no longer expect when we dial someone’s phone to get a live voice. We anticipate automated voice at the self-serve check out at the grocery store, auto attendants, at our banks, utilities, airlines,  schools, offices, hospitals, voicemail, and more. In fact, if someone does answer live, we aren’t prepared. I know I have been caught stammering “oh, uh hello, I didn’t expect to get you”!

More importantly, we’ve gotten used to talking back. Automated speech is now commonly two way. Not only do we hear it, we respond, and it in turn talks back. Think – Siri; your car; “say ACCOUNT for your account information”. We didn’t just

build menus for our customers to find what they are looking for, we built systems that listen, and truly interact like a human would. Human intelligence is fluid, artificial intelligence is not. We program it – it responds as it has been told. The power of this tool is just beginning to be harnessed. The future of applications that make our lives easier and our customers’ businesses more efficient is bright. So many possibilities are still to be uncovered.

Where will ASR take us in another 15 years? Will our children even remember touch screens? Or will they simply talk to their watch, phone and tablet and expect them to respond? Will they speak and the washing machine will turn on, the fridge will close, the lights will dim, the gas fireplace will start and the TV will change channels?

Speech automation is the come-from-behind underdog that I vote most likely to cause the next wave of technology disruption in the coming generation.

Stay tuned and listen up!

from blog

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