Speech Is Headed in New Directions

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Since the early days of Speech Technology magazine more than 25 years ago, voice has been on a journey toward a day when it would become the default way to manage and interact with companies, cars, computer systems, and colleagues. Well, today I can proudly announce that the day has finally arrived. Voice has now reached the point where technology and electronics manufacturers wouldn’t dream of putting out a TV, car, home appliance, mobile device, or video game without some kind of voice interface built into it. What used to take forever to design, build, and deploy can now be live in a very short amount of time. Systems that used to be exclusive to one platform or one device can now be built once and deployed anywhere and everywhere with relative ease.

For the past few years, cloud platforms have taken most of the credit for speech’s meteoric rise in prominence and acceptance. But that is starting to change with cloud deployments giving way to edge computing. Though still in its very earliest stages, edge computing is being recognized for the transformative role it could play in voice interfaces.

With edge computing, a substantial amount of speech processing and analysis can now occur on devices themselves. This issue’s cover story, “Speech Inches Closer to the Edge,” highlights some of edge computing’s potential within the speech technology landscape. In a nutshell, edge computing is enabling voice technology to overcome many of the obstacles that have held it back all along, including speech recognition accuracy in noisy environments, high computer processing and bandwidth demands, latency, and privacy concerns.

The fast pace of innovation in the speech industry has also taken the technology beyond its expected user base of teens and twenty-somethings, creating an environment where octogenarians and nonagenarians are using it to keep track of their medications, to keep in touch with caregivers and loved ones, and to keep up with the world around them, all while maintaining their independence. Our feature story “Seniors Increase Use of Assistive Speech Tech” details some of the technologies that are making this possible.

I know the technology has made a huge difference in the lives of my aged parents. Their Life Alert system has been a true lifesaver. And my father, who calls me in an absolute panic when someone sends him an email with a PDF attachment that he needs to open, has no problem asking the voice remote to find a John Wayne western on TV. And, despite the heavy German accent that he still maintains after nearly 60 years in this country, the remote is able to recognize and respond to his request with amazing precision. That certainly would not have been possible just a few short years ago.

Because of how far speech technology has come, I’m now considering a few other voice-enabled gadgets to help my mom and dad with everyday tasks around the house. I don’t mind being summoned over there once or twice a week to help out with certain things, but if technology can help do some of those things for them, I’d be just as happy. And I know my father would appreciate getting back some of his independence.

Among the technologies that could soon be coming into their lives are a voice-enabled calculator, thermostat, and doorbell system with camera. More could be on the way further down the line as needs change and their physical and cognitive abilities wane. I wouldn’t have said that a few years ago.

Other changes are sure to rip through the speech technology world now that Microsoft has acquired Nuance Communications in a historic $19.7 billion deal. I am surprised by how little attention this acquisition has garnered across the industry. Kevin Brown reflects on it in this issue’s Inside Speech column, but otherwise there has been little said or written about the deal. I know M&A rumors have been circulating around Nuance for some time, but I expected much more of a buzz.

I’m sure the Microsoft-Nuance deal will have a huge impact down the road, and you can count on Speech Technology to cover it.

Leonare Klie is the editor of Speech Technology magazine. He can be reached at lklie@infotoday.com.

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