Image of Dad Baking with Kids and Device
Read Time, 4 min.

Getting Clear On Voice Recognition 

Alot of work has been done on making voice the preferred input method for technology users. In 1952 Bell Laboratories designed the “Audrey” system, which recognized digits spoken by a single voice. 10 years later this was followed by IBM who demonstrated its “shoebox” machine that could understand 16 words.

It’s only now that we are getting to the stage where voice has become commonplace to the point that it can complement, or even replace, peripherals like keyboard and mouse, touch, and gesture control.

As with smartphones and touch interfaces, the key to getting users to adopt voice-control is to make them feel like a new kind of experience.

Is it working? The short answer is Yes.

A global survey by research firm Cint of 5,000 consumers found that by July 2018 almost a fifth (19%) of households owned either an Amazon Echo, Google Home and Apple HomePod, and a further 38% of respondents said they planned to purchase one. In short, there is a market for devices that do the same things as a PC/tablet/Bluetooth connected speaker with a voice interface. This year Amazon even ran short of supply of Alexa powered speakers in the run up to Christmas.

Voice First Generation  

Beyond the hardware, we are seeing the appeal of voice assistants expand to the point where so-called Gen Z (those born in the mid-90s to early-00s) is on track to become a ‘voice first’ generation. Google reports that 20% of its searches are now through voice. As a parent of two I can attest to the immediate impact of introducing voice activated devices to our household. With two daughters (ages 5 and 2) running riot, at some point every piece of furniture has been asked “Hey Cortana”, “Ok Google” or “Alexa” in the hope of Frozen being played just one more time.

The trick is making sure this momentum doesn’t stall is by making sure responses are heard, understood and actionable. That’s a big challenge.

You often hear of artificial intelligence projects being undermined by a ‘junk in = junk out’ failure, where poor data leads to bad results. In voice recognition the line between quality and junk input is so thin that the fault lies not in the user for having ‘bad input’ but the software for not being able to recognise. There are reasons digital personal assistants have slow rollouts across the globe, they basically have to learn how to communicate with the market in which they are about to be launched – that means reaching at least 95% accuracy. As a native English speaker with, what I consider to be, a very flat Irish accent there are some challenges with voice recognition and “localisms”.

That learning is an ongoing process for which there are two approaches: ship updated software with a block of feature updates or update on a rolling basis using data gathered on a rolling basis. Yes, we are talking about another use where the cloud is a better solution than big box software.

The best example of how problems identified in the wild need rapid iteration is that of voice control for children. To date, much of the work done on voice recognition has been with adults, however, children have their own intonation, play in different environments, and come with a raft of safety and security concerns from parents.

We’ve all heard anecdotes of children using service accounts linked to their parents’ credits cards to ratchet up huge credit card bills. Wouldn’t it be advantageous to identify when the card holder is speaking to a device, as opposed to their child, who shouldn’t have unfettered access to it – if at all. Furthermore, we want to trust our devices not only with our credit but with our data and especially with our children’s data.

Like any project reliant on user data to improve itself, we have to be concerned about how that data is collected, stored and used and the user themselves has to be comfortable with that process.

One Irish company that’s worth checking out in this regard is Soapbox Labs. Fronted by Patricia Scanlon, Soapbox uses a ‘privacy by design’ approach to create voice interfaces that are accurate, age-appropriate and safe for children to use. Powered through years of research and unique expertise in this field Soapbox’s plan is to generate a ‘magical world for children’ and that means you’ll be finding its tech in toys, robots, virtual and augmented reality and games. Even more exciting is their vision to apply their tech to improve child literacy across the planet.  Unicef Report from July 2018 cites that while the literacy rates globally have improved from 83% to 91% in the last two decades it still remains the case that 115 million young adults remain illiterate and 59% of these are young women.

Soapbox is all safe, secure, and constantly learning to think like a child and protect like an adult. If you’ve heard of ‘privacy by design’ you could call this ‘parental by nature’.

 

Paul Shanahan

Intelligent Cloud Business Group Lead

Looking to skill up on Azure?

Get the e-book and learn Azure in a Month of Lunches

Discover more related articles per industry:

Education

Finance & Insurance

Government

  • Two people inside using Surface Go in office

    How technology is transforming the work of governments

    Governments have the ultimate responsibility to their citizens. People depend on the services they provide like no other institution. Whether in healthcare, education, business, roads, railways, water – it’s essential that government institutions are always at the forefront of social and digital trends. Cloud-powered technologies are playing a critical role in helping government agencies to […]

  • a plane sitting on top of a grass covered field

    Fáilte Ireland Rapidly Adapted and Innovated with Microsoft Power Apps

    Fáilte Ireland Rapidly Adapted and Innovated with Microsoft Power Apps  When the Covid-19 pandemic closed offices globally and truly changed how every organisation functions, it created additional unanticipated challenges for many. Fáilte Ireland, the National Tourism Development Authority, was one such organisation which had migrated much of its work to the cloud. The tourism body, which employs 450 people, identified that […]

Healthcare

Manufacturing

  • Two field workers fixing airplane turbines

    IoT connected field service has tapped into a new economy of satisfaction

    There’s something to be said for how modern convenience has altered customer expectations globally. As the world rapidly moves towards digitisation, traditional values―such as price and product loyalty―are cast aside in favour of curated service experiences. In the field service industry, this has become an area of concern for continuous customer satisfaction and business growth. […]

  • a yellow school bus driving down a dirt road

    Database migration that helps you be ‘better than the best’

    The Japanese term dantotsu is difficult to translate, but roughly means ‘better than the best’. Since its founding nearly 100 years ago, Japanese construction and mining equipment multinational, Komatsu, has striven to provide its customers with a service that achieves just that. As part of this mission, Komatsu launched its Dantotsu Strategy in 2003, which […]

Retail

Discover more related articles per dossier:

Customer Stories

Digital Transformation

  • Big data boosts business for beverage company

    Big data boosts business for beverage company

    Contemplate, if you will, the multiple choices available every time you want something to drink. Water? Juice? Soft drink? Do you want a single-serve can or a six-pack? Or maybe you just grab a liter bottle. The fact is, we as consumers expect a lot of options and the global non-alcoholic beverage industry delivers. Arca […]

Press

Security & Privacy

Tips

  • Group of two female and one male office workers brainstorming in informal office setting. Both women are using laptops while the man is writing. Large screen shown in background.

    2019 Modern Selling Trends in 5 webinars

    The relationship between buyers and sellers grows more complicated each day. Every potential partnership requires finding the right buyer, fully understanding their business, tracking progress through the buying cycle, and engaging them with the right content—when and how they want it. These shifting dynamics underscore the artistry of modern selling. When the time is right, […]