For years, the spoken word has fueled the conversations and actions that humans carry out on a daily basis. Now, the increasingly advanced capabilities of voice recognition mean that technology can do the same thing.
Just look at Microsoft’s voice recognition software; it transcribes speech with an error rate of 5.1 percent, which equals the error volume of human transcription. Then there’s Adobe, whose recent purchase of voice interface Sayspring shows it sees a future where it’s creative suites can function on voice input rather than point-and-click action.
These innovations — and others like them — signify a tipping point for technology. One where voice becomes the language that technology uses to carry out the outcomes we want. But these functionalities didn’t just spring up overnight.
They’re the result of nearly two decades of hardware and software development that’s rapidly evolved from on-premise networks to cloud-based applications that can be accessed both online and offline. For businesses trying to keep pace with all these rapid changes, the transition from on-site to cloud-centric has meant significant investments in IT and middleware.
Rather than rip out old hardware and software every time a new update is available, middleware connects legacy systems to newer technologies. In a world where voice commands are the common user inputs and cloud is the framework, voice is the connector that enables both human-to-computer and computer-to-computer interfacing.
Voice is More than the Latest Expensive Technology
The biggest fear for most large organizations — especially with technology investments — is an acute fear of failure. Rapid innovation and a slew of fruitless technological investments have left many companies apprehensive about new innovations. The trauma of ripping out and reinstalling new systems while trying to explain the misstep to employees, boards, or investors is not quickly forgotten. There is also the real danger that such a large expense will undercut a firm’s chances of long-term success or allow an opening for a competitor to get ahead.
For the last 50 or 60 years of computing, people have been building complex programs and environments to gain more computing power. A lot of that development has centered around developing languages such as HTML, C++, and Python that allow humans to better communicate their wishes to computers.
But voice is both a middleware and a major upgrade for how humans interact with devices. It’s the culmination of training computers to do so many amazing things that now they understand what we say and how that translates into desired actions. We don’t have to invent better computer languages for humans to speak; we can just ask the machine to go do it in our own language. In the long-term view, it’s not a technology likely to become obsolete, which means the risk of major loss is very small.
Conversational Computers Help a Business’ Bottom Line
The greatest thing about computers verbally conversing with humans is that the learning curve for people is eliminated. Remember how hard it was to teach your parents or grandparents how to text? Never again. Voice-powered technology allows people to invest more time in the high-level responsibilities and less in trying to weave through software intricacies.
Imagine asking your home’s smart device to, “Dim the lights in the living room.” In your imaginary living room, your Phillips Hue Bridge lighting system is connected to your legacy lights. You are giving your smart device an order with your voice, but it’s working in conjunction with a legacy system to make that action happen. This is the power of voice as middleware. It frees up time to carry out high-priority responsibilities instead of connecting the three technologies in hopes of producing the inputs you want.
Other cost savings will quickly become evident. If voice is being used as the primary tool to direct machines on what needs to get done, you can cut out a lot of older middleware. A Pique Solutions study found that a single piece of Oracle enterprise software could eliminate several million dollars in middleware management while also reducing the number of required management staff.
Other companies have seen similar benefits by investing in smart middleware. TechRepublic, for example, needed to better connect its in-house systems. Instead of focusing on how to accomplish individual integrations, the company chose to implement XML middleware to connect all of its business processes. While the initial push took a major shift in company outlook, the end result was $4 million in productivity gains and a tenfold reduction in required business process integration hours.
Conversational computers enable smaller staffs to work faster with more information. As computers get better at conversing, so must we. The role of data scientists will continue to increase in importance, but the ability to communicate those data findings, trends, and required actions succinctly will be the competitive edge between firms. Data scientists help us identify what needs to get said, and good communicators optimize what and how to say it to affect change the fastest.
Together, these changes should speed up the innovation cycles within businesses. Faster product inputs, better access to leading-edge technologies, and reduced costs should create leaner, faster-moving organizations. It should also help shift our view of technological advancements away from a discouraging cycle of constant replace and upgrade to a more incremental change of technology.
This tipping point represents an exciting area of advancement for business and a ripe opportunity for competitive advantage for first movers. Voice will essentially become the main middleware, helping to forever assimilate new technologies more easily.
A shift of this nature will help all businesses worry less about the long-term implications of any individual technology investment they make because they know that there are incremental versus revolutionary expenses in the near future. With voice allowing us to seamlessly maximize the powerful integration of technology, big data, and unhindered computing access, businesses will see rapid gains in productivity and efficiency.
All that’s needed is to just say the word.