Voice Summit: Where Voice is Going

Voice Summit: Where Voice is Going

By Ben Parkison

I recently attended the Voice Summit, and have thoughts about where Voice is going.

My daughter and Alexa were born the same year, making them both four years old. My daughter regularly interacts with Alexa, playing music, asking questions, and most importantly making Alexa make animal sounds. From watching this interaction every morning, I can tell you that my four-year-old is a more capable communicator than Alexa. And that’s no knock on Amazon: This is the case for all voice platforms today.


While we’re building real value for enterprise clients with voice today, at Valence we’re most excited about what we see coming in the next few years:

Better Technology — These systems are improving every day in their ability to understand inputs and their ability to naturally deliver a response. As this evolution continues, we’ll see more adoption of voice interfaces and more capable solutions.

Access to More Data — Enterprise companies are continuing to adopt modern data management strategies and cloud first designs. The rising tide lifts all ships, and this progression will allow enterprise applications, including voice solutions, to do more.

Systems That Listen — The idea of invoking a voice interface will be an artifact of our time. As voice recognition and contextual understanding gets better and better, voices assistants will be able to listen, know who is speaking, understand when action is needed, and respond immediately.

New Hardware — The number and variety of ways we can access digital assistants will only increase. AR headsets, wearables, and even more amazing tech like this will make voice assistants ubiquitous.

Conversational UIs — There’s more to how we use language today than just the words coming out of our mouths. As AI becomes more integrated with voice interfaces, we will truly move to conversational user interfaces that can visually identify the speaker, detect mood, understand if you are confused, impatient, or interested in the conversation, and more. All of this will allow conversational UIs to become more emotionally aware. Do I want my conference room Alexa device to read my mood? Maybe not. But image an emergency room, or a high stakes negotiation, or a combat scenario, and any other emotionally charged human environment. Then does it make sense for my interface to be more emotionally aware? Maybe.

As these advances continue in the next few months and years, conversational interfaces will be the tip of the spear in how we define AI and how it reshapes our relationship with digital systems.

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Chatbots: Much More Than A Novelty

Chatbots: Much More Than A Novelty

The promise of Artificial Intelligence and chatbots is here.

Sure, humanoid robots s aren’t yet roaming the earth, but AI-induced applications and AI-infused services are transforming the world around us into a more intelligent, interactive, and empowered domain. Looking for a good example? Ask Siri, Alexa, Cortana, or CleverBot. They, collectively, are the answer.

Apple’s Siri, Amazon’s Alexa, Microsoft’s Cortana, and Google’s Cleverbot are all examples of chatbots — “a computer program which conducts a conversation via auditory or textual methods.” Some chatbots use natural language processing ability to understand your speech and then respond verbally. Apple’s Siri is perhaps the most famous example of this type of chatbot, though Alexa and Cortana are also widely used. Other chatbots are text-based, responding to typed questions, commands, or observations. Microsoft’s Xiaoice, for example, was released in China in 2014 and, as of only a year later, had already been used by over 40 million smartphone owners (25% of whom had reportedly said “I love you” to their “virtual friend,” which is available on China’s two most prominent social media platforms — Weibo and WeChat).

Chatbots have been the subject of controversy — see Microsoft’s Tay — and frequent comic derision — see, e.g. Siri. More generally, many people see them as little more than a novelty — a fun way for consumers to interact with technology. But they are much much more than that. Simply put, chatbots are a powerful example of the proliferation of Artificial Intelligence into mainstream society. And we are just scratching the surface of their capabilities.

To-date, the landscape of chatbots available for consumers and enterprises has been dominated largely by the tech titans mentioned above. It is in the process, though, of getting significantly more diverse and dynamic, a phenomenon driven by the release of numerous chatbot frameworks for developers.

Chatbot frameworks are essentially software development kits (SDKs) for the AI-verse. They provide a platform — the technology infrastructure — for developers to build chatbots in a manner which meets their needs. The release of frameworks like Microsoft’s Bot Framework and Facebook’s Bot Engine (wit.ai) means that any developer, be they a hobbyist or professional service provider, can build a chatbot to improve their life or the lives of those around them.

Want to build a chatbot that speaks to you in Captain Hook lingo in time for the annual Talk Like a Pirate Day (September 19)? Have at it! Think your business can benefit from a chatbot designed to provide a more intuitive way to access and organize the data that fuels your success? Build it!

…or let us build it! Valence understands that chatbots are more than a novelty; they are a paradigm shifting technology that can digitally transform businesses in any sector. That’s why we’re putting them to work for our clients in ways that support both their strategic objectives and their day-to-day tactics. And that’s why we’re looking forward to learning how we can put them to work for you.

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Natural Language Understanding: It’s Not Just Chat

Natural Language Understanding: It’s Not Just Chat

The recent standardization of speech recognition and natural language understanding (NLU) technologies has led to the first step in enterprises embracing newly enabled capabilities: The chatbot. Beginning in 2016, enterprise businesses began to seriously invest in chat as way to rethink interfaces to business data, to streamline how employees and customers access services, and to enable cost-saving strategies such as self-service. However, chatbots are simply the first foray into new capabilities enabled by NLU, and the next round will see the emergence of systems that leverage NLU to optimize the interface between the human and the digital to maximize value.

Soon, over her morning coffee, a sales director will be able to speak out loud about her previous day. Her end-to-end NLU-enabled system will respond by automatically queuing up dynamic reports on her screen, optimizing her to-do list for the new day based on her past behavior and serving that automatically to her device, reaching out to the appropriate team members and scheduling her meetings for the week, all while holding a conversation with her about her recommended weekly plan via her digital assistant.

This will all be possible with systems optimized based on how humans communicate best, how digital systems process information, and how the two work together.

Letting Humans be Human
Speech to text, NLU, and the standardization of how developers interact with these algorithms has, for the first time in decades, upended how humans can pass information to digital systems. These technologies are undergoing their own renaissance for the plain fact that they allow humans to communicate in the way we’ve been doing it for millenia: speech. Speech allows users to rely on their own ability to communicate nuanced, precise flows of information in a way that is so natural, it far outstrips the standard of touch-and-keyboard in terms of efficiency and accuracy.

Letting Digital Systems do Their Thing
Chatbots have been the first step because they are what we know. Starting with the first messenger applications, we’ve been sending and receiving information in natural language formats for decades. This paradigm is a natural first step for NLU. But, we are now at the cusp of seeing a revolution in how digital systems process human speech and provide information back to the user in all the ways digital systems are able (and in the ways humans cannot): dynamic data explorations, virtual reality experiences, pervasive multi-device workflows and more.

A Perfect Balance
By marrying Natural Language Understanding with the full menu of existing and future digital communication models, we can optimize the passing of every piece of information to fit the specific communication style and need of the sender and receiver. The result: enterprise systems that fundamentally change core business technologies, leading the way to efficiencies, cost savings and new business models.

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