Voice Recognition: Is This The New Killer App?

Danielle Beurteaux

At the end of June, Amazon announced that it would invest $100 million via its Alexa Fund to external developers. Alexa is the power behind Amazon Echo, the voice recognition device the 16481218698_e4012923c5_o_dcompany released earlier this year. The Echo’s uses were limited by the lack of applications, which this fund is aiming to ameliorate.

Amazon’s CEO and founder Jeff Bezos is quoted in the press release saying, “Experiences designed around the human voice will fundamentally improve the way people use technology.”

At most offices, we’re still very much tied to the keyboard. But voice recognition, or voice biometrics, is becoming more reliable as the technology behind it improves and application possibilities broaden—thanks in part to efforts by tech companies like Amazon—and we can expect to see it integrated into quotidian office practices. How will voice technology likely change the workplace?

Improved accuracy

The concept of voice recognition technology has been around for a while (see: Star Trek), but the reality has yet to live up to its promise. For starters, it’s pretty complex. The simple framework involves several layers of technology, and even then there are issues with accents and regional pronunciations. But there’s certainly been improvement—Google has stated its voice search has hit an error rate of 8 percent, compared to 25 percent just a few years ago.

Changing data centers

As voice recognition grows, it’ll change how data is processed and stored. That’s because it takes up much more space than text-based data—to the point that conventional data centers won’t even come close to handling the capacity. So there are people working on recreating data center architecture to handle the coming deluge.

Security: no more passwords

Passwords have become something of a bane of modern existence—we’ve got too many of them, we forget them, they’re not very secure, etc.

Voice recognition is going to replace text passwords very soon. According to this NPR article, there were 567 patent applications filed last year for biometrics.

In fact, banks and financial services companies are already rolling out pilot programs to see how customers use and react to them. MasterCard is working on voice recognition; USAA is using a combination of facial and voice recognition, depending on circumstances, in which the member reads a phrase aloud to gain access to his or her account. In Australia, the federal tax office is using voice recognition for account access.

WeChat, the instant message app, just announced voice authentication capabilities for iOS 6.1.2, the latest update.

No more assistants

All of the big three—Apple, Google, and Microsoft—are investing resources into developing intelligent systems. Google Now has Now On Tap, Microsoft has Cortana as part of Windows 10 (which also employs voice recognition as an authentication method), and Apple’s still got Siri, which has improved its recognition and results. Apple’s plan is for Siri to become a proactive assistant—using context and past behavior to predict what you’re about to do. Siri relies on Wolfram Alpha, which selects results, as opposed to using algorithms, like Google search.

Of course, if you still want someone (broadly defined) on hand, you could try and get a Pepper.

Want more on how innovative tech is reshaping how business works? See The 5 Most Important Tools of the Make for Me Future.

Danielle Beurteaux

About Danielle Beurteaux

Danielle Beurteaux is a New York–based writer who covers business, technology, and philanthropy. Her work has appeared in The New York Times and on Popular Mechanics, CNN, and Institutional Investor's Alpha, among other outlets.