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Say hello to the intelligent spoken word

last updated 03 November 2017

Voice-assisted AI platforms are set to dominate the way humans interact with the internet.

Olof Schybergson, CEO of Fjord, a global design agency owned by Accenture, sharing about AI's development in recent years. (Photo credit: Elie Azzi)

By Francis Kan

Even as millions of consumers continue to type and swipe on screens around the world, experts believe that the spoken word will be the next big way that humans interact with their digital devices.

 

Driven by artificial intelligence (AI), voice-assisted devices such as Apple's Siri or Google Home could soon be the predominant platform for users to shop, gather information and engage with the online world.

 

This was one of the key themes that emerged at Convergence, a conference track held on 18 September as part of SWITCH (Singapore Week of Innovation & Technology) 2017 that explored emerging technologies such as AI, virtual reality and machine learning.

 

IMpact looks at what speakers at the event had to say about the rise of AI and voice technologies as well as their impact on businesses.

 

Speaking up outside the home

 

Voice assistance has made its mark in the home, a natural setting for conversations to take place. But they are also starting to appear in other environments where speaking to your device is the most efficient way of interacting with it.

 

"Talking in your living room happens naturally, but there are situations such as when you are driving your car or when you are on the move and your eyes and hands are occupied where using voice makes sense," said Olof Schybergson, CEO of Fjord, a global design agency owned by Accenture.

 

As the technology advances, the chances of being misunderstood are also declining. According to Olof, AI-driven voice technologies such as Google's can now recognise what a person says with 95 per cent accuracy – a level on a par with human understanding.


What's more, dystopian fears over AI taking over our lives also appear to be receding. Olof added that a recent survey showed that some 87 per cent of respondents are ready for an AI to detect their emotions and react to it accordingly.

 

Indeed, those surveyed also want their AI assistants to be pro-active, and provide them with suggestions on where to eat, shop or what to do even before they have made up their own minds.

 

For brands, the rise of AI and voice is an opportunity to differentiate them even further by developing a personality and tone that is unique to each consumer, added Olof.

 

Looking ahead, he believes the next trend is for a "conversational singularity", where the device will disappear and all that remains is just a conversation, as Internet of Things (IoT) technology allows humans to be online everywhere and with everything.

 

Making it user-friendly

 

While AI and voice have shown much promise, questions remain over whether the implementation of these technologies will go as smoothly as expected, noted Ian Myles, founder of consultancy firm Area 51 and an expert in design and user experience.

 

"Voice will have a strong chance of prevailing in the future and nothing is moving faster through the enterprise than AI, but what matters is usability. A lot of stuff has died on the road to development because they were not usable," he said.

 

Companies must develop solutions with the human in mind, making them easy enough for just about anyone to use. For example, he noted that it only takes four buttons to initiate a video Skype call between a 2-year-old and an 80-year-old.

 

He added that brands that wish to deliver targeted content to consumers using these new technologies must also keep in mind the "timeliness" of their message.

 

"If content was king, the context is god. If you receive something that you need right now, then the content is really appropriate. But get it five minutes later and it becomes annoying," he added.

 

Be skeptical of the data

 

The huge amounts of data being generated online is the fuel feeding the AI engines, which are churning out insights used by brands to target consumers with pinpoint accuracy – or so they think.

 

Steve Walls (left), Chief Strategy Officer at Saatchi & Saatchi, Leo Burnett and Publicis, argued that brands need to view the data they gather – and the insights generated from them –­ with more than a pinch of salt.

 

"Around 90 per cent of the world's data has been created in the last eight years. The data will tell you that Justin Bieber is more important than The Beatles. So you have to be careful," he said.

 

What is required, he advised, is to have some level of human involvement to tease out the insights that a purely data-driven process might miss.

 

"Big data can tell us a whole lot about the masses, but the nuance is lost. You won't be able to find the kinks that we use to sell things to you," he said. "You can find a person interesting, but the data won't tell you why, you have to sit down and speak to that person."

 

That said, he believed that as AI become smarter, it would eventually be able to overcome its current shortcomings.

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