On SpeechTEK's Second Day, the Future Is on Display

spoken program guides.

Comcast's speech apps now work through smartphones, though the company is looking into moving speech to the remote control and also expanding to other home automation systems.

Synchronoss is also active in the smart home area, working on a platform that it hopes will power and interconnect many disparate smart home devices, according to Peter Krogh, the company's solutions architect.

With many of these systems, the biggest challenge has been complexity, according to Parks. But recent developments "are starting to take the complexity out," she added.

One of the biggest areas of complexity, Heck said, was being able to separate background noise from the actual user intent. That is something that has been getting a lot of attention lately and is quickly disappearing as a hindrance.

And while the smart home concept is still a bit futuristic, it too is not too far off.

In fact, Acquity Group today released the results of a study that found that more than two thirds of consumers plan to buy connected technology for their homes by 2019, and nearly half say the same for wearable technology.

Findings predict immediate growth at a more gradual rate. Still, certain devices, especially those that are focused on health and safety, are projected to see earlier adoption among consumers. Taking into account respondents who already own these products, the following connected devices are expected to be the most popular in the next few years:

  • Wearable fitness devices (22 percent proejected adoption by 2015 and 43 percent in the next five years)
  • Smart thermostats (13 percent projected adoption in the next year and 43 percent in the next five years)
  • Connected security systems (11 percent projected adoption in the next year and 35 percent in the next five years)

Smart virtual assistants were also once futuristic technologies that have seen real-world adoption today. "We're still in the early stages with virtual assistants," said Andrew Watson, user interface/user experience designer at Nuance Communications, in an afternoon session. "Virtual assistants are here to stay and will eventually be the front for all your business channels."

Nuance in mid-2012 launched its own personal assistant app named Nina.

Before virtual assistants can become ubiquitous, though, the technology will need to have some intelligence built in and be able to retain context, Watson said.

The same can be said for the myriad of robots, androids, and other automated humanoids that are coming at an alarmingly fast rate. As with all the other speech products, though, spoken language and conversational dialogues are still a problem, according to Judith Markowitz, president of J. Markowitz Consultants.

However, as is also the case with personal assistants and many other deployments of speech technologies, one of the biggest concerns is what has become known as "the uncanny valley," a theory that holds that humans become more uncomfortable with technology the more human-like it becomes. Essentially, it's the dip in acceptability caused once the technology becomes "creepy," Markowitz explained.

But creepy or not, voice is becoming ubiquitous, speakers during another afternoon panel pointed out.

Nonetheless, for the technology to advance further, it also needs to overcome the naturalness challenge and privacy concerns, according to Ahmed Bouzid, senior director of business solutions at Genesys. "We need and want to have a conversation rather than just giving commands, and we want it to recognize intent and context," he said.

Also expect a lot of work to be done in the areas of biometrics, analytics, and emotion, said Leor Grebler, cofounder and CEO of Unified Computer Intelligence.

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