Speech recognition technology is transforming how we interact with technology in the home and at work
The launch in the summer of Amazon Echo and Google Home represents an important stage in the evolution of speech as a user interface. Most people are already familiar with voice-activated personal assistants like Apple’s Siri, but the thousands of applications and devices these voice activated wireless speakers work with mean that using speech as a machine interface will soon become second nature.
Futuresource Consulting estimates that in 2016 6.3 million ‘voice assistant’ speakers capable of communicating with other smart home applications were shipped worldwide, pointing out that people are already using Echo to turn lights on and off, to control heating and to order pizza.
Rasika D’Souza, senior market analyst, audio devices at Futuresource Consulting, said: “Over the next two to three years we’re going to see the voice interface ﬂourish. Where visual and touch have dominated to date, voice and speakers will become more relevant for certain environments. Longer term, we’re going to see integration with TVs, appliances, light bulbs and furniture.”
Futuresource’s confidence is shared by Nuance Communications. Its speech recognition and artificial intelligence (AI) technology is used not only in solutions for the smart home, notably Dragon TV, which enables users to search for films and TV shows by voice, but also in a huge variety of business and industrial applications.
Nuance recently held an open day in London, where it highlighted some of these key applications, including:
Keyboard replacement: The company’s Dragon speech recognition software is used by more than 22 million individuals to work smarter in the office and on the road. As well as enabling more efficient document creation, through fast, accurate dictation and the ability to control a PC using spoken commands, Dragon improves accessibility by enabling workers with disabilities, wrist injuries, dyslexia or RSI to use speech instead of a keyboard.
Healthcare: Nuance produces versions of its software with industry-specific vocabularies, such as Dragon Medical, currently used by 500,000 clinicians and 10,000 healthcare organisations worldwide. Within 12 months of implementing the solution to capture patient information and create clinical documents, Waterloo Medical Group had achieved cost savings of £15,000, reduced turnaround times, enhanced staff well-being and improved the quality of its documentation. In the UK, Dragon Medical is used by Great Ormond Street Hospital, NHS Plymouth, Alder Hey and Macmillan Cancer Nurses.
Customer service bots: Nina, Nuance’s multichannel intelligent virtual assistant for enterprise, offers personalised self-service over the web and through mobile apps. Research commissioned by Nuance shows that 89% of consumers want to engage in conversation with virtual assistants to find information more quickly. Consumers can ask Nina questions by typing or speaking into their device, saving them the trouble of searching for the answer on a company website. This also allows businesses to cut costs by reducing customer service staffing levels. Nina is currently being used by ING, Santander and Swedbank, where after three months it was able to answer just over 80% of customer queries. Since Nina is intelligent and learns from each interaction, this success rate will only improve.
Voice biometrics: Because each individual has a unique voice print, speech can be used for authentication, replacing the need to remember passwords and PINs with a more reliable, secure alternative.
Connected car: More than 160 million cars are powered by Nuance technology, including models from Ford, Audi, Mercedes, Toyota and BMW. The Dragon Drive platform, Nuance’s in-car virtual assistant, enables drivers to access apps and services by voice, including navigation, music, message dictation and the calendar. Nuance claims that a speech interface can improve safety as users are able to keep their eyes on the road as they change radio station, get directions or send a text message. Nuance’s Contextual Reasoning Framework, a cloud-based service within Dragon Drive, leverages AI to deliver personalised recommendations, based on a driver’s preferences, location and situation. For example, it could direct you to undercover parking when it’s raining or to the nearest petrol station when you are low on fuel.
As these examples show, Nuance is using its expertise in speech recognition technology to reinvent the relationship between people and technology. With new entrants like Amazon and Google also transforming how we interact with consumer electronics, it seems clear that speech interfaces will play an increasingly prominent role in our lives.