Predictions 2018: Natural Language Controls Ready for Prime Time

While voice recognition has existed for years, the interface is about to take off big time for three reasons: The IoT, artificial intelligence and vastly improved software.

Amazon.Echo

Alexa, Cortana, Einstein, Google, Siri, and Watson are fast becoming members of the family to us. They don’t exactly live and breathe, but they can still be quite chatty at times.

We mostly control our computers and phones by pointing, clicking, swiping, poking and typing. But these interfaces are moving aside. Instead, we are interacting more and more with our machines the same way we interact with each other: by talking.

The voice-control, voice-assistant revolution has us all talking to objects all over our homes and offices. Meanwhile, the public at large is slowly adjusting to the idea of interacting with smart devices through conversation.

Why Voice Will Hit the Big Time in 2018

While voice recognition has existed for years, the interface is about to take off big time for three reasons. No. 1: The internet of things (IoT). Everyday objects are getting microchips and Internet connections, so why not microphones?

No. 2: Artificial intelligence is enabling devices to not only understand everyday language but also do powerful things with simple commands.

No. 3: The voice-recognition software itself has improved by leaps and bounds in just the last year or so. Nuance, Microsoft and  Google are leading the way. Pervasive cognitive computing is helping this right along.

Company to watch in 2018: Veritone, which is building a huge bank of audio content from radio, television, the web and video sources. This will impact voice IT enablement big time in 2018.

Google currently owns 24 percent of the voice-enabled speaker marker and is planning to expand that with its new Home devices lineup. Apple will enter the shark tank at the end of this year, when its own high-end voice-enabled speaker, the HomePod, starts shipping.

Smart Speaker Market Growing Quickly

Analysts see the smart speaker market growing from 4 billion units this year to 7 billion by 2020. With the recent release of all of these new devices, it's likely that 2018 will be the year when users start adopting the devices in big numbers and when we see competition among Apple, Amazon and Google heat up.

Here are some perspectives from people who know this business firsthand.

Robert Weideman, Executive Vice President and General Manager, Enterprise Division, Nuance Communications:

  • Your voice will be your password.
    “2017 was a record year for hacks of personal customer details. These breaches give fraudsters access to our identities including the answers to those annoying security questions. One thing the fraudsters can’t do much with? Voice data. And that is why banks and telcos are increasingly replacing security questions with biometrics. With a few words of speech, voice biometrics can confirm you are who you say you are at accuracy and security levels better than pins, passwords and security questions. And it knows how to detect recordings from real, live speech – rendering the data useless to fraudsters in the case of a breach.”
  • The “800” number will enter early retirement.
    Digital customer engagement combined with mobile devices, tablets and data lines will lead to less calls. A lot less. In 2018 you will engage with a virtual assistant and if they can’t resolve an issue, you will be seamlessly texting with a live contact center agent. If the issue is really complicated and can’t be resolved through messaging, you still won’t call the 800 number. In 2018, that step will be integrated through advanced technologies like WebRTC and IVR-to-digital, allowing the contact center agent to connect with you by voice or video within the app, on your laptop, even through your TV screen or smart speaker.”
  • You will add a brand as your messaging “friend” – and you will mean it.
    “In 2017, Facebook Messenger, Line, Kik and more added capabilities for their users to “friend” organizations and companies, and late in the year, Apple announced Apple Business Chat, which will do the same for Apple Messages. In 2018 you will start engaging brands in the same way you talk to friends – in your messaging app, through SMS and even inside your banking and telco apps. And AI will allow each brands’ VA engine to respond to you in a personalized way, referencing past engagements you have had across other channels.”

Sven Denecken, head of product and co-innovation of S/4HANA Cloud, SAP: Voice-activated assistants will be the new norm.
Voice-activated digital assistants will become commonplace in the business environment, as IDC also found in its study that almost 50 percent of new mobile apps use voice as a primary interface. These digital assistants will allow employees to conversationally interact with key applications and data insights."

Tiago Paiva,CEO of Talkdesk:  Voice isn’t going anywhere.
“Every year we hear more predictions about how voice support will soon be obsolete. If customers start using chatbots and other support automations, they’ll have to stop using something and voice seems like an easy target. According to Deloitte’s 2017 global contact center survey, voice still accounted for 64% of customer interactions this year, four times more than any other channel. Looking two years into the future, the same survey projects voice to be about half of all communications, three times more than any other individual channel. These numbers are for total communications, it doesn’t even take into account that voice is used for the crucial, high-emotion  moments that make or break customer loyalty."

Jordan Owens, VP, Americas, Pexip: Voice recognition in conferencing will evolve.
“The ‘join experience’ for video calls has always been a challenge for many organizations. As we look ahead, many new initiatives will influence this for the better. Technologies such as voice recognition and automated assistants will be an increasingly prevalent feature for video conferencing as providers experiment with features such as voice activated meeting joining, leveraging voice commands for screen sharing, presentations and more, all to deliver a better and more effortless experience.”

Darrin Bird, COO and executive vice president at TCN Inc.:

  • Voice will remain king: "There will be a push for companies to reach out to customers through various channels (i.e. text and email); however, when given the option,  consumers will still prefer a phone call."
  • Omnichannel Trends: "Customer-contact center interactions are expected to be viewed as more favorable by customers in 2018, with the growth and utilization of non-intrusive, omnichannel features, such as SMS messages, voicemail drop, email, etc."

Dan Sommer, Senior Director and Market Intelligence Lead, Qlik: Analytics move beyond visualization to become conversational.
“Natural language query, processing and generation, augmented by search and voice, and helped by virtual assistants and chatbots through API integration, provide a new paradigm for business users to best leverage their data."

Bobby Beckmann, CTO of Lifesize: Artificial  intelligence/machine learning will be used to make meetings more effective.
“Cloud-based video conferencing solutions give us access to huge amounts of data about meeting habits. This data, aided by artificial intelligence and machine learning, could allow us to optimize the use of the platform and increase the effectiveness of meetings – many of the other trends (e.g. virtual assistants, facial recognition) are, in effect, powered by AI. At a basic level, AI could enable us to determine optimal meeting length, ideal number of participants, or best time of the day to hold a meeting to improve productivity. Voice recognition could analyze the content of meetings, compare against other meetings in the same organization, and make suggestions as to connections between people with complementary skills or knowledge.”

Patrick Maloney, CEO and founder of Inspire: Smart home companies that are unable to create recurring revenue models will fail.

“There has been no shortage of innovation and new product offerings for the smart home this past year, driven largely by advancements in AI, automation, and voice-enabled technology. And this won’t slow down anytime soon. But going to market is hard, retail shelves are crowded, and products aren’t highly differentiated—making it difficult to maintain long-term growth. The revenue models for most smart home products and devices are transactional, one-time purchases. Unless you are Amazon or Google, creating predictable and capital-efficient revenue streams is not likely. Companies that will succeed in the smart home space are those that can make the transition to a recurring revenue business model, and also create more value and efficiency for the consumer. Smart homes shouldn’t just be smart for the sake of being smart, but instead improve consumers’ everyday lives. By focusing on smart home services, not just the hardware, we’ll see companies achieve both.”

Paul Sallomi, vice chairman, Deloitte LLP, on the future of the voice device market:

  • “The mobile phone market is saturated with more than 90 percent of adults having a phone.  However, one-fifth of North American homes will get all of their Internet data access via cellular mobile networks.”
  • “By 2023 more than 1.8 billion phones will be sold each year.  That means if you stacked all the phones sold in a year end to end, they’d reach more than halfway to the moon.”  

Dan Gittleman, CEO of Xevo:  What we can expect in connected cars in 2018.
“Seamless voice control will become more prevalent in in-vehicle systems. Consumers are becoming familiar with hands-free devices and services like Amazon’s Echo and Apple’s Siri, and they will expect the same kind of technology and ease of access in the car.”

Todd Carothers, Executive Vice President of Sales and Marketing, CounterPath: Threaded communications will emerge.
As we look to the new year, persistent sessions – also known as Threaded Communications – will begin to take the market by storm. Whether one-to-one or many-to-many, Threaded Communications is all about keeping a comprehensive record of all the communication that was performed via voice, video, messaging, collaboration session or all the above, so that users will be able to go back to the session and re-live the meeting.”  

Eric Christensen, Vice President Products (Payments, Fraud and Financial Services), Digital River: Voice payments will continue to increase.
"In 2018, voice payments will gain steam to complement traditional payment methods especially for brands that consumers have a long-standing relationship with such as Amazon, Google Play or Apple Store. The credit card will still be the mechanism to back their voice payment and will expedite the payments process for existing customers' purchases. Over time, this process will be more common with one-off purchases."

Be sure to save the time/date for our next #eWEEKchat on Wednesday, Dec. 13, at 11am Pacific/2pm Eastern. The topic is one of our favorites: “Predictions and Wild Guesses for IT in 2018.” Bookmark #eWEEKchat for starters; check here for further details.

Chris Preimesberger

Chris J. Preimesberger

Chris J. Preimesberger is Editor of Features & Analysis at eWEEK, responsible in large part for the publication's coverage areas. In his 13 years and more than 4,000 articles at eWEEK, he...