As of 2017, nearly half of US adults have said they use voice assistants to interact with mobile and other devices, and all predictions see that number growing significantly over the next couple of years, as companies continue to refine existing assistants and expand voice capabilities (in smart home systems, for example). Voice assistants started on smartphones with Apple’s release of Siri in 2014 but have since expanded to include smart speakers. As of 2018, nearly 20% of the US population has a smart speaker in their home. As voice recognition and deep learning expand, voice assistants will be able to do more and more. Here are some things you may not know about voice assistants.
1. Chatbots and voice assistants share underlying technology. Both interfaces use machine learning and rely on natural language processing to understand a user query and provide an answer. Voice assistants layer on the capability of voice recognition via waveform analysis. Chatbot developers are creating new and exciting ways for voice-powered virtual assistants to interact with users. As machine learning advances, voice assistants will be able to better recognize, interpret, and respond to your questions and commands.
2. Voice assistants are becoming more popular in business settings. While chatbots are popular in customer service, voice assistants are being used in IT and administrative contexts. In the office, voice assistants can help by automating meetings and providing easier access to important data, among other tasks. That’s just the beginning, though; this technology has the potential to reshape retail and e-commerce, hospitals, and hotels.
3. Smart home systems are expanding. Although most people currently use voice assistants to interact with smartphones or play music from a speaker, the Internet of Things is a growing industry. Google Assistant, built into Google Home speakers, can connect with 5,000 different home devices. The key is that while major companies in the industry—Google, Amazon, and Apple—are creating their own devices, other companies can also build appliances and equipment designed to work with these different voice technologies.
4. Multiple languages are becoming available. Google Assistant is the first voice assistant to be able to understand and speak two languages simultaneously. Users can choose from English, French, German, Italian, Japanese, and Spanish. This marks an advancement in speech recognition technology that will make voice-activated devices available to a much larger population worldwide. Amazon has also added French to Alexa.
5. Fun fact: Alexa was inspired by Star Trek. Voice assistants in smart speakers, of which Alexa was the first, have their origins in the Starship Enterprise in Star Trek. This gives you some idea of where voice assistants are headed and also indicates the influence science fiction can have on real-world tech.
Chatbot development will make voice assistants more capable, and voice recognition technology will make them more reliable and even easier to use.