Within the last couple years, voice recognition technology has hit the mainstream. It’s finally left the realm of “Star-Trek-like” technology to something we accept and even expect on our mobile devices. Despite this, a lot of the population remains skeptical about its overall usefulness in other applications.
For that matter, many people are well aware they have the option to use voice controls on their phones, but never do beyond the occasional instance when someone asks them to show off the voice controls.
I’ll admit that the reason I haven’t used it more is because of the fact that I don’t enjoy speaking like a robot to my phone. “I—–want—–Chinese—–food”. Only to have it repeat back to me “Searching for small engine repair shop now”.
The technology, though, is getting better all the time, and manufacturers are finding valid uses for it in different situations. If it continues to develop along these lines we may begin to see a real change in the way we interface with the most common devices every day.
In fact, just a couple of days ago Microsoft announced that it had doubled the voice recognition speed and made it 15% more accurate.
One of the biggest leaps in this technology was when we started moving away from just speaking specific commands. The ability to recognize words is one thing, but the ability to interpret meaning is what makes voice input usable for the masses. It’s the difference between saying: “Search. Weather. Saturday.” and just asking your phone: “What’s the weather like this Saturday?”.
Memorizing rote commands was never going to win anyone over. Usability will depend on the future developments in this area. I suspect that it is getting close to something we will use on a daily basis because the new Sony Playstation 4 will reportedly include some sort of voice recognition software.
Recent Applications – Are they Useful?
Many companies are trying to integrate voice recognition technology in a variety of devices. Most notably we’re seeing them in game systems, televisions, and desktop/laptop computers. While there are some benefits here, the question has to be asked if it is really a better option that what we had before?
Microsoft recently announced its new game system, and it put a lot of weight on the ease of control using voice commands. They showed off some games that would require the player to shout at the screen in an attempt to create more “immersion,” but also showed how easy it was to switch between applications.
Is it entertaining? Sure. Is it more accurate and precise than pushing a button a couple millimeters? Probably not. And that’s what this technology will have to beat before it’s considered really useful.
Another development is in the traditional computer arena. Intel is promoting its convertible ultrabooks as extremely interactive platforms, and so they are trying to incorporate more advanced technologies that will create more natural interactions. Just like the game systems, though, it’s hard to beat a couple clicks and fast typing for accuracy and precision.
On the other hand, the newer ultrabook convertibles that have features similar to a tablet computer may be able to use voice interactions very efficiently. Just like any other mobile device, a single, stated command is the quickest way from point A to point B.
What Constitutes “Useful”?
The question of usefulness will likely come down to whether or not the technology can overcome things like misrecognition and delayed responses. Hands-free computing is certainly advantageous in many cases, but if the solution is not more precise and efficient than what is already available, it will not get past the image of being an “optional feature.”
Speech potentially opens the door to more flexibility in applications. It can offer a lot of options because it is an open-ended input method. Mobile computing, so far, has led the way because we already have our hands and eyes doing something else, which makes voice the go-to input method.
As the technology continues to develop, we may begin to see it extend into many different markets as a truly useful alternative. With the changes we have seen in cell phone technology just over the last year I don’t think it will be long before this becomes the norm.
About the Author: Bruno Galera works for Dell and has a passion for technology. When he’s not reading about the latest industry trends, you can find him cooking, reading, cheering on his favorite football team or at a museum enjoying contemporary art and photography.