Making our Voices Heard: The Growth of Voice Recognition During the Pandemic
The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated development of a diverse array of technologies that promote social distancing and safety, from scan-and-go checkouts to telemedicine. Among those that will have the most resounding influence is voice recognition technology, which is poised to benefit industries from ecommerce to healthcare.
Forecasters project that the voice and speech recognition market will reach $26.8 billion by 2025. As the market grows, millions of consumers and companies around the globe will rely on voice technologies to power smart home speakers, assist with key business processes, enhance customer service, drive healthcare innovation, and foster greater accessibility and inclusivity for those facing motor and speech impediments.
Here's a look at why more enterprises and individuals are relying on the power of voice tech and where the market goes from here.
By the time the pandemic arrived one year ago, 24 percent of U.S. adults (some 60 million people) owned smart home speakers, according to a report by NPR and Edison Research.
Owners came to depend on these devices more as the outbreak triggered stay-at-home guidelines and social distancing measures. Fifty-two percent say they use their devices multiple times a day or nearly daily, compared to 46 percent before the pandemic. And millions of consumers who had never before used voice assistants are starting to do so: eMarketer forecasts that 132 million Americans of all ages will use one in 2021, up from 115.2 million in 2019.
Consumers aren't only using these devices to conduct searches or play their favorite music. They're increasingly turning to voice assistants to make ecommerce purchases and manage their households. According to a 2019 survey by Capgemini, more than two in three consumers will opt for voice assistants instead of visits to physical stores or bank branches by 2022. That share might yet prove higher after the COVID-19 pandemic and many months of home-based, socially distanced life and commerce.
Employers, meanwhile, are slated to make greater investments in voice interfaces like Alexa for Business, Cisco Webex Assistant, Google Assistant, and Microsoft Cortana, as detailed in a report by 451 Research. As workplaces reopen with health and safety precautions still in place, voice technologies will allow them to manage meetings, control devices, and control room temperature while minimizing contact.
Of course, even among companies that reopen their offices, the new normal will see many operating under a hybrid model with both remote and office-based work modes. Voice technology is already proving its value for remote workforces, harnessing AI-based speech recognition technology to automatically transcribe meetings conducted via web conferencing platforms, for example.
Giving Voice to Those Who Need It Most
Meanwhile, as technological innovation reshapes the future of healthcare, voice technology is set to play a growing role in how we manage our day-to-day health and take care of those who need regular monitoring. During the pandemic, healthcare systems used Amazon Echo speakers to allow providers to stay in touch with isolated patients, and the Mayo Clinic has added a new skill to Alexa to answer questions about COVID-19.
Post-pandemic, as the world population grays and millions more senior citizens require regular medical care, voice-activated care robots will help meet surging healthcare demand, enabling seniors to continue living independently.
But for the 7.5 million Americans who live with speech impediments, traditional voice technologies have historically proven woefully inadequate, if not impossible to use. An aging population will only compound the challenge, with millions more seniors who survived strokes and a variety of other medical conditions that compromise the intelligibility of their speech.
Fortunately, a number of innovative assistive technologies have emerged to address this growing need. At my company, Voiceitt, we have developed an app that uses AI and machine learning to understand and translate speech for individuals with speech disabilities or impairments. This allows users whose voices deviate from standard speech to have their own voices translated into intelligible speech (as opposed to motion- or icon-based technologies that turn text or icons into speech, i.e., the technology used by renowned scientist Stephen Hawking). Voiceitt identifies and adapts to individuals' unique impaired speech patterns, such as breathing pauses and non-verbal sounds, and translates atypical speech to typical speech. This allows users to be understood by loved ones and caretakers and even smart home speakers, offering them ndependence they have never had before and ultimately making voice technology far more accessible and inclusive.
From serving businesses navigating hybrid work models to meeting the healthcare needs of the 21st Century, voice technology holds immense promise across a wide swath of use cases. And while the technology is hardly a brand new phenomenon, the sheer range of applications being unlocked by recent advances in the field ensures that its impact will be felt and heard for decades to come.