The Next Big Thing

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"Smartphones with Physical Keyboards—A Dying Breed.” “Apps for Mobile Devices Expand Creativity.” “Exempt Mobile from Rules.”

When I reflect on these recent news headlines and think about the evolving role of speech technology in business and our everyday lives during the past three decades, a particular sequence of events comes to mind. Author Geoffrey Moore eloquently describes this sequence in his book Crossing the Chasm, in which he discusses the transition of innovative technologies from early adopters to the rest of us in the mainstream market.  

It is quite exciting to realize that we have, indeed, crossed the chasm when it comes to the functionality and fit of speech solutions. Mainstream industries experienced only limited progress until the mid-’90s, but have witnessed the proliferation of reliable speech applications in the past 15 years. That’s because of the Internet. What a boost we have gained as a result of the tidal wave created by Web 1.0, 2.0, 3.0, and the approaching 4.0, and Internet software and search technologies, in general.

History has proved that without the evolution of surrounding technologies and infrastructures, specific technologies fall into the category of being introduced “before their time.” Speech technology has in the past decade earned two valuable business credentials: as an integral component within mainstream solutions, and as the most convenient way to get the job done.

The control of information and marketing has shifted to consumers from corporations, brand owners, and conventional media channels. Power is with the consumer. Anyone can be a publisher, news reporter, or movie producer. Anyone can voice an opinion in industry forums. 

People migrate to the easiest choices and most convenient devices daily. Today’s consumers are engaged; they drive the market and set the rules. There’s no better way to engage consumers and prompt them to action than with interactive conversations via preferred devices. And since speech is an integral component within the multimedia “technology team,” we can assure the engagement becomes gratifying, targeted, personal, and contextual.

Now mainstream business is pulling speech into practical, convenient user solutions. We don’t need to push as hard as we did in the past. 

Going forward, speech technology and its proponents have two challenges. First, we need to be proactively and intensely tuned into emerging mainstream developments, and become members of wider industry teams. Second, we should balance R&D and integration plans with a mission to serve consumers in the mainstream who will continue to migrate to the easiest, most convenient blended solutions with voice, text, audio, and video.

Convenience Is King

The message behind the headline “Smartphones with Physical Keyboards—A Dying Breed,” from Chronicle/Bloomberg News, is only a small example of “push turned into pull” opportunities. Consumers love their iPhones and Android phones. There’s no need for a physical keyboard. “All thumbs” is no longer a problem, let alone “all eyes” on tiny screens, because we can compose email and text messages by voice. A growing number of smartphones boast built-in speech technology and free dictation applications. Consumers will undoubtedly switch to the most convenient smartphones—those with virtual keyboards.  

I remember how difficult it was to contain early excitement about speech technology’s potential. AVIOS was founded in the Silicon Valley in 1981 to further that promise. From the beginning, this group knew how much work would be involved in unleashing speech technology’s power. However, market drivers required more reliability, practicality, and mainstream adoption than what could initially be offered. We had to wait for our turn in the sequence in which other technologies and communications platforms became available. Then we had to integrate with them and innovate using them.

The great news is that the practicality has arrived and there’s no end to future opportunities. Speech technology provides essential “raw material” to most every mainstream communications solution. In time it will be considered not as a separate technology but rather as a utility that has to be present—in the same manner the Web will not be treated as a distinct medium but as an integral part of media.

For speech, that is the “Next Big Thing.” 

Marketta Silvera is past president of the Applied Voice Input/Output Society (AVIOS) and a board member since 1988. She is an entrepreneur and has been CEO of several Silicon Valley Internet and voice technology companies during the past 20 years. She can be reached at msilvera99@comcast.net.

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