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Voice is a natural step in the technology evolution – Amazon

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If there is any doubt in which direction the technology world will head next, its being brushed aside by AWS; voice is the natural progression.

Speaking at TechXLR8, Amazon’s David Low highlighted that the voice user interface will be the next step change in the technology roadmap, and it’s going to come sooner than we think.

“Interfaces have followed a strange path over time,” said Low. “We all speak from birth, but as interfaces started they started from the other end. They were complicated with touch, but now we have regressed to something more natural; voice.”

For Amazon, Alexa is front and foremost. The business has proved useful at innovating over the last couple of years, you only have to look at the success of AWS to see this, but voice is the next step in the evolution. Its digital assistant might be somewhat of a quirk for the moment, but mass adoption of the interface is just around the corner.

“The original idea came from the bridge of the Starship Enterprise,” said Low. “The captain would walk around the ship, and the computer would obey commands wherever they were. Many at Amazon though that this was a great idea once the technology caught up.”

It’s the idea of ambient computing and ubiqtuous connectivity which will drive the evolution, but also and perhaps more importantly, it’s much more natural to us as humans.

Think about when you are watching the football. If you turn away for a second and miss something, the natural response would be the ask someone who is sat next to you what happened. When you are on your own however, the next response would be to take your phone out of your pocket and check. It’s a step which doesn’t feel incredibly natural. Asking Alexa what happened creates a scenario which is closer to real-life and removes friction.

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This is ambient computing, a term which we are likely to hear a lot more of over the next couple of years. You won’t have to go searching for a computer or intelligence; with the connected home and the wider IoT ecosystem, machines will transform our environment, embed intelligence everywhere we look, and we won’t even realise it.

But we aren’t quite there yet.

The technology which underpins the voice UI has been around since the 50s. Speech recognition began with computers which could understand the numbers 0-9, but it was slow progress. Understanding addition or multiplication commands didn’t come until the next decade. Low believes we are at a stage where 95% of speech can be understood, however mass adoption will not take place until we have got that number to 99.

Another important factor is speed. Amazon believes through the power of cloud computing an Alexa response can be nailed in half a second, but this needs to be guaranteed 100% of the time. If this is not the case, a conversation with Alexa will be staggered, not feeling natural at all. It will falter the line of adoption.

Voice is incredibly important because we have become a bit big for our boots. Apps are becoming increasing complicated, and we have become increasingly demanding. Low used the example of ordering a coffee. If you were to order a Grande Mocha without the whipped cream through a coffee shops app (no names here), it could take up to 18 clicks. That’s a time consuming and frustrating process for coffee. But imagine just saying ‘can I have a Grande Mocha without whipped cream’.

The drive towards digital it increasing its pace, but the functionality of certain areas are seemingly getting too complicated. Voice might be seen as the saviour of the lazy in some people’s eyes, but for others it is a practical and critical step towards the emergence of the connected economy.

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