Why Speech Technology Is Essential for the Internet of Things

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In late April, Apple's highly anticipated smart watch, the Apple Watch, joined the nascent wearables market, which was valued at about $4.5 billion worldwide last year by Juniper Research. In five years, the research firm estimates that the wearables industry could reach approximately $80 billion in sales worldwide.

The industry's rapid growth could present fantastic opportunities for the speech technology industry, because, for many of these small devices, speech would be the best user interface. For tips on how to capitalize on some of these opportunities, read Michele Masterson's feature "Time Is on Your Side: Wearables Spell Opportunity for Speech Interface Designers."

Beyond wearables, the connected home and car will contribute to the larger Internet of Things (IoT) market. Like wearables, IoT products will be able to capture, track, and share relevant data, but on a much larger scale—at least that's what IoT enthusiasts are claiming. But much stands in our way before we achieve this global digital utopia.

First, connectivity could be a tremendous obstacle. Most blue-chip companies operate in heterogeneous technology environments. Because of this, they can't even connect all of their own internally managed databases. If homeowners are not careful, they could struggle with a similar issue. It would help to have universally accepted technology standards so smart devices can easily connect to digitally connected products.

This applies to speech technology developers as well. In her column "Talking to Everything: User Interfaces for the Internet of Things," Deborah Dahl maintains that open APIs aren't enough. "IoT interfaces will be much easier to develop if the results they produce are not only available to developers, but are in a standard format too.” She even has a recommendation for an appropriate standard for speech technology results. Read her column to learn more.

While I'm on the topic of design and development, I should stress that it’s important for more organizations to recognize the need for good user interfaces—even organizations that typically didn't have to think about user interface design. Take car manufacturers, for example. Some of their in-car systems could use a little help. In her column "Car Interfaces Are in Desperate Need of Attention," Jenni McKienzie writes about her struggles to navigate her car's user interface. Jenni, and others, shouldn’t have to "think hard about which button to push," especially while driving. These systems don’t have to be consistent from one company to the next, but their user interfaces should be easy to navigate.

Another critical issue is security. As we become more dependent on technology for entertainment, convenience, safety, health, and comfort, we become more vulnerable to it. Internet-connected implanted medical devices, automobiles, homes, and personal and corporate finances are increasingly connecting to the Internet. Any of these can be hacked, as nothing is always 100 percent secure. As a result, the IoT could create a hacker's paradise, or worse, a new playground for terrorists.

As overwhelming as these problems sound, speech technology could play a significant role in solving them. Utilizing a speech technology standard for IoT development, leveraging best user interface practices, and deploying voice biometrics for security could go a long way in furthering the IoT industry.

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