Voice is chat’s next battleground

by admin September 20, 2016 at 11:53 am

Chatbots were meh. Sure, they’ll get better. But the upcoming innovation in chat is about being more human, not less. With the proliferation of adequate speech recognition, AI assistants and wireless headphones, the tech is ready to unlock the potential of our most basic form of communication.

Soon, we’ll talk and listen to our messaging apps when it’s more convenient than typing or reading. The age of voice is about to arrive.

Why now?

When we’ve got our hands full. When we’re on the move. When we don’t want to fumble through menus. When we’re driving, or working, or just don’t want to dig our phones out of our pockets or purses, voice will be there.

Tech fortune-teller Mary Meeker thinks voice is coming, too, calling it the “most efficient form of computing input.” We can speak 150 words per minute compared to typing only 40, and voice interfaces can learn context about us to improve prediction of our intent. Instead of always browsing starting at the home screen, we can dive directly into the functions we want.


Why we’ll use voice.

“As speech recognition accuracy goes from say 95% to 99%, all of us in the room will go from barely using it today to using it all the time,” says Baidu’s Chief Scientist Andrew Ng. Voice assistant and search usage are rapidly climbing as Amazon’s Alexa captures the imagination of consumers and developers.

facebook-voice-to-textRight now, however, our access to voice interfaces for chat is limited. There’s basic dictation through Android and Siri in iOS, but getting anything read aloud to you can be cumbersome. VoIP calling is growing, with 300 million of Facebook Messenger’s 1 billion users firing up its audio and video calling features each month.

But in most apps, there’s still no way to quickly hear your chat push notifications or messages read aloud to you, have your voice messages transcribed, bounce between message threads or interact with chatbots via voice. I believe that’s poised to change.

Who’s speaking up?

Facebook acquired voice and natural language interface startup Wit.ai in 2015 but hasn’t done much publicly with its technology outside of text bots. One thing it’s still testing is the ability to send a voice clip message and have Facebook automatically turn that into text so the recipient can read it instead of listening.

Last week, the head of Facebook Messenger David Marcus said voice “is not something we’re actively working on right now,” but added that “at some point it’s pretty obvious that as we develop more and more capabilities and interactions inside of Messenger, we’ll start working on voice exchanges and interfaces.”