Ubiquitous Voice Society Expands into Nine New Chapters Worldwide

The Ubiquitous Voice Society (UVS) yesterday announced a rapid expansion of its reach, proliferating from its flagship in McLean, Va., to additional chapters centered in Boston, New York, Cleveland, and San Jose, Calif., domestically, with international chapters to be established in Toronto, Paris, Berlin, and Algiers.

The non-profit organization, founded in 2014, seeks to engender design and research expertise for voice technologies in a newer generation of engineers and entrepreneurs, addressing what it sees as a dearth of emerging talent in the field.

"Voice is obviously booming," says UVS president and co-founder Ahmed Bouzid. "And of course we can expect the supply of talent into the field to eventually meet demand. But right now there's a real shortage of designers for voice experience. We'd like to accelerate things."

Bouzid, a former product head at Amazon in charge of The Connected Home elements of its Alexa smart assistant, is founder and chief product officer at the startup Witlingo, which specializes in designing speech user experiences and deployments across multiple platforms. "I've always been in natural language," says Bouzid, who emphasizes that he is passionate about evangelizing the possibilities of voice and speech technologies.

"Speech technology has been moving beyond IVR," he continues. "I believe the lack of support and interest in the space is because, traditionally, it was associated only with IVR, and IVR was not a very sexy space for a young person to commit themselves. Things are different now, but education and investors haven't yet caught up."

Initial efforts to encourage the next generation of voice technologists will focus on organizing meetups across the globe, with the express purpose of building up excitement and energy around the UVS's mission of delivering on the promise of voice. These meetings will feature professionals in the field who will showcase current voice-enabled products and platforms, as well discussions of the state of voice and overviews of the landscape. Each chapter will actively seek students and young professionals who are interested in beginning careers or pursuing ventures in the emerging space of ubiquitous voice.

Additionally, the UVS is focusing on educating venture capitalists and angel investors about the possibilities of voice, along with efforts to broaden opportunity for young designers.

"We're trying to sponsor semester-long classes focused on the full cycle of building voice experiences and products,researching, designing, testing, prototyping. As we expand we're hoping to get sponsorship from big companies like Amazon and Google in order to set up angel funds for promising ideas and talent," Bouzid says.

New chapter heads include Lisa Falkson in San Jose (Bouzid's colleague and head of UX at Witlingo), and Leor Grebler in Toronto, who is the co-founder and CEO of Unified Computer Intelligence, which just launched UCIC.io, a company focused on building tools and services for delivering voice on hardware platforms, such as the Alexa Voice Service from Amazon.

Bouzid emphasizes that the UVS doesn't want a lot of bureaucracy, and that the new chapter heads are largely free to run their chapters as they see fit, spreading the word about voice in their specific areas. "We are driven by meetings," he says. "Our meetups are very much un-conferences. We let our members propose topics and build our programs from there."

The next meeting of the UVS will take place in Berlin April 27, at which Bouzid expects members to demonstrate some new voice technologies and products and give concrete tips for building on Amazon's Alexa platform. Additional meetings are expected to take place in San Jose and New York sometime in May.

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