Humans. Funny how they love talking to things even if those things don’t understand them. Have you ever looked at your pet and asked, “how was your day,” only to be presented with a blank stare? We all do it, and we love it. Voice and communication are two of our most useful assets and it makes sense that technology would naturally evolve to fit.

Current voice command technologies open up new communication portals we only thought existed in science fiction stories. The race to make smaller and smaller devices, like wearables with small screens has been all the rage, but eventually, we might not even screens to interact with devices.

It’s what’s being coined the zero user interface, or screen-less, or whatever you prefer calling it. I hear it’s debatable.

We’re simply getting closer to dropping the keyboard, yet perhaps not entirely. “Zero user interface” as a concept offers a variety of commercial application opportunities, and someday soon we may see a day where preference for voice outweighs touch altogether. “Beam me up, Scotty” (ok, that’s not entirely accurate, but I’m a nerd and you get the point).

A heavily saturated zero user interface world would fundamentally change the way we as humans communicate – with each other, with technology and for intents and purposes here, with brands and with customers.

It’s what’s being coined the zero user interface, or screen-less, or whatever you prefer calling it. I hear it’s debatable.

Going Screen Commando

The reality of zero user interface implies that the need for physical-touch sensory technology (i.e screens, keyboards) will not only no longer be required – heck it won’t even be desired.

Ditching the screen entirely would be an unprecedented leap for consuming information. Imagine not needing to pick up your cell phone because it’s faster to speak what you want.

Ok let’s taper back the anxiety – you don’t have to abandon your cell phone. You could be browsing Instagram by telling it to scroll. Or you could order flowers by saying what you want instead of typing, searching and hitting the buy now button. Everyone gets their own virtual assistant. Even Oprah can’t top that.

Enter the Google

Science fiction pioneers predicted a future where we could talk to computers, and preliminary breakthroughs in voice recognition came as early as the 1950s. Bell Laboratories created one of the first machines that could recognize human speech — albeit only numbers.

Enter the Google. There were some bumps in the road at first; limitations in processing power and predictive and statistical models were mediocre. In early 2000s, Google released its Voice Search for iPhone app and it completely revolutionized voice command technology. Then some genius over there decided to manage the technology via a cloud data center – and boom – the market exploded.

So while voice technology isn’t conceptually new, the capability continues improving and integration with other technology is the catalyst behind the current revolution.

GooGoo Gadget Grandma

Studies show the adoption and usage of smart home (e.g. Google Home, Amazon Alexa, Apple Home) and virtual assistants (e.g. Siri and Google Assistant) is wildly popular among consumers. According to Statista, the value of the smart home industry is expected to climb to more than $53 billion worldwide by the year 2022.

Despite advances, no tech is 100% accurate. Say “Hey Siri” or “Ok, Google” around a group of friends and see how many phones light up. It can be hit or miss depending on how similar your voices are; alas the problem still persists.

Then there’s this grandma.

At the risk of explaining away the humor of the video, it makes a powerful point. Sure the smart device can quickly serve up London’s current weather forecast, but sometimes it simply doesn’t understand us and we end up fighting or flighting out of frustration.

The latest smart devices understand a mind blowing number of commands. As consumers we don’t necessarily realize how robust voice commands have become or alternatively we tend to overestimate how sophisticated they can be – these problems aren’t mutually exclusive, either. Better user education and more exposure to the technology over time will be the main tactics in solving user/device error.

“Siri, order Starbucks. Make it a Venti.”

Voice command technology has been applied in some truly great and innovative implementations.

Amazon Alexa has become a powerful device. Sure you can use it re-order your daily multi-vitamin or re-up your K-cups, but its core purpose of connecting you and keeping you connected to Amazon is perhaps the most brilliant part – keep customers within its ecosystem.

After Hurricane Michael, Amazon Alexa owners could donate to the American Red Cross using voice commands. Texting donations is easy; saying “Alexa, donate $50” is even easier.

Not everyone has Alexa, but the estimated 240 million smartphone users in the U.S. have access to voice recognition technology. Consider the Starbucks’ app. Caffeine connoisseurs can order their Venti Caramel Macchiatos by talking into their phones and pick up their drink as soon as they get to the store.

The Future is Sound

Voice command technology is changing the way we interact with tech on a fundamental –read: human– level. Eventually we’ll all be speaking to our devices in the same way that we talk to our friends. Half of us already do, according to Voicebot.

There are some hesitations from businesses to jump fully into the voice tech, because it’s a new avenue for consumers to connect with brands in ways we’re just beginning to explore.

As artificial intelligence and voice recognition continue to improve, not only will we be able to talk to our things, but the technology itself will also be able to anticipate our needs. Smart technology is learning our behavioral patterns, but we’ll talk about that and predictive analytics in another article and why it’s important to all businesses..

Brace for it: the future is here, and it sounds great.

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