Voice Technology: What’s Next On The Cards?

Over the past 50 years, we have been on a journey that has simplified our modes of interaction with computers, from punch cards to keyboard, mouse and then touch. Each step has made engagement with technology simpler and more natural, leading us to perhaps the simplest and most natural interaction mode of all – voice.

Developments in speech recognition and natural language processing (NLP) mean we can now talk to computers in a way that was considered science fiction just a few years ago.

Take Amazon – it has created a new voice hardware category and sold 11 million Echoes, along with Google who has recently launched its own equivalent, Home. The rise of a voice-activated world will redefine not just how we live our lives, but also how brands reach consumers on a more personal level.

Collaborating with J. Walter Thompson Innovation Group, we recently produced the report, Speak Easy, to discover how brands must adapt and evolve to a new era of voice technology.

Voice to boost human interaction
Already 44% of smartphone users think “voice technology will help people interact more with each other as they won’t be always looking down at a screen.” Over the coming years, we can expect voice technology to become increasingly ubiquitous. CNET estimates that there were more than 30 significant Alexa hardware integrations announced at CES 2017 alone. Outside the home, voice-enabled headphones akin to the AirPod and Vinci’s Alexa-enabled headphones will drive increased usage in public spaces.

As people are freed up from their devices, brands will need to think how they can capture the attention of consumers through content accessible in the Internet of Things.

Giving up control to ‘Digital Butlers’
Voice assistants are set to take on a more prominent role in consumers’ lives making decisions independently and essentially evolving into ‘digital butlers’. Almost a third of respondents say they are excited by a future where their voice assistants anticipate what they need and take action or make suggestions.

Imagine how simple it could be booking a holiday through a series of back-and-forth questions to refine the choice.

Ever considered getting intimate with Siri?
People want voice assistants to show greater understanding, be able to initiate conversations, and preemptively solve problems. Cultural reference points from Her to HAL 9000 through Iron Man’s JARVIS to Channel Four’s Humans have inevitably framed expectations. 36% of regular voice users say that they love their voice assistant so much that they wish it were a real person. What is more – over a quarter of regular voice users revealed they have had a sexual fantasy about their voice assistant.

In order to make the most of this opportunity, brands must establish trust before a dependency can grow and a deeper relationship can emerge. This includes alleviating consumers concerns around privacy. Data gathering is a concern with 44% of regular voice users stating “I am worried about companies listening to the conversations I have with my voice assistant.” However, encouragingly nearly half (46%) of potential users would use voice if there were guarantees around personal data and security.

Voice is less mentally draining than texting
Did you know that voice interactions are less mentally taxing than their touch or typing equivalents? Working with Neuro Insight we ran an experiment with 100 consumers measuring brain activity while undertaking tasks via voice or typing. Interestingly we found that 50% less brain activity occurs when processing an answer delivered by voice. This supports the idea that voice, as the oldest form of human communication, is inherently more intuitive and comfortable. Furthermore, a stronger emotional response to brands occurs when using voice to ask a brand question, with emotional activity twice as high when saying a brand question than typing it.

Some companies are already tapping into the human bias towards voice. Travel app HelloGbye allows users to dictate their dates of travel, destination and the number of people they are travelling with to generate a suitable list of flight and hotel options. We believe that the relative ease of voice interaction will make it increasingly attractive to consumers, particularly those feeling overwhelmed by technology.

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