Netflix's "The Circle" Provides a Glimpse into the Future of Speech Recognition

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The Netflix original show "The Circle" features eight contestants who interact with each other solely through a voice-activated screen known as "Circle." As the show has grown in popularity, so has interest in the artificial intelligence technology that the contestants use to communicate with each other.

Viewers can relate to the show's use of this technology because they are likely already using a form of it in the smart speakers that have become fixtures in homes across the globe. According to Statista, there were an estimated 3.25 billion digital voice assistants being used in devices around the world as of 2019, and it is projected that by 2023 the number of digital voice assistants will reach around 8 billion—a number higher than the world's total population. With this technology becoming ubiquitous, it is no wonder viewers are intrigued by the show's Circle app.

However, some viewers were disappointed to learn recently that the Circle app is not true AI technology. In fact, there is a human element to the technology; show producers actually transcribe what contestants say and push these messages to other contestants. While the circle app is not true AI speech recognition technology, it does provide a glimpse into the not-too-distant future of this technology.

Thanks to companies pushing the boundaries of innovation, speech recognition technology has already bypassed the need for speech-to-text conversion (a la The Circle and solutions like Amazon's Alexa or Apple's Siri that convert speech to text), making it faster and more accurate at following instructions. Acoustic-only speech recognition is now boosting the accuracy of AI voice interface software to nearly 100 percent, making it possible for speech engines to learn to understand the meaning of audible speech in any language or accent and accurately perform in offline and noisy environments. Recent innovations in voice interface technology also include multiple and user-trainable wake words so users are not limited to "OK Google" or Hey Alexa."

These and other advances in speech recognition are fueling widespread adoption of this technology across a range of industries. Increasingly capable embedded voice user interfaces are powering personalized experiences in smart cars, smart homes, smart hotels, and smart health.

Smart cars

Adoption of voice technology has been steadily increasing in the automotive sector. Consider that voice assistants are projected to be embedded in nearly 90 percent of new vehicles sold globally by 2028.

Speech recognition technology embedded in vehicles allows drivers to control audio systems, listen to messages, and find the nearest gas station or parking spot. Hands-free voice technology has the power to improve safety by changing driver behavior, helping them keep their eyes on the road and minimizing distractions.

Smart homes

The Internet of Things (IoT) is enabling smart devices throughout homes and integrating speech recognition in many of these devices, from smart refrigerators to smart speakers to smart thermostats. That integration translates to a lot of devices embedded with speech recognition technology. Gartner predicts that there will be 20 billion internet-connected things by the end of this year.

Connected home trends are accelerating in large part thanks to millennial consumers who desire the efficiency, speed, and convenience of technology-enabled devices. Another trend on the rise for smart home applications is a customized experience for users. While many companies like Amazon and Google have a designated wake word, like "Alexa" or "OK Google," Fluent.ai offers the option to name the device yourself, creating a highly personalized experience.

Smart hotels

A drive to improve guest experiences and boost revenue is fueling the adoption of voice recognition technology in the hospitality sector. AI voice interface technology is being integrated in hotel rooms to allow guests to easily order room service, make reservations to dine in hotel restaurants, and book excursions.

IHS Markit indicated that voice assistant technology will be a key disruptive trend in the hospitality sector, projecting that hospitality will be the second-largest commercial vertical market for smart speakers by 2022. Hoteliers appear to agree with this projection. According to Oracle's Hotel 2025 report, 78 percent;of hotel operators believe that voice-activated controls for lights, air conditioning, and room devices will be mainstream or in mass adoption by 2025.

Smart health

Speech recognition technology is also beginning to find its way into healthcare. The technology is being used to send appointment reminders and write emails. Voice recognition is also helping make the electronic health records process more efficient. Doctors can use speech recognition technology to keep records instead of manual typing or writing.

The Circle's portrayal of impressive natural language processing is not far off what is actually happening with voice recognition technology today. Advances in technology that offer more robust embedded speech recognition, meeting consumer expectations for devices and technology that understand them regardless of their language, accent, or environment will drive the continued growth of the AI voice interface market.

Probal Lala is CEO of Fluent.ai, a voice recognition solutions company. Fluent.ai delivers offline, noise-robust voice recognition solutions in any language, with the mission to voice-enable the world's devices.

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