Fans of science fiction have long been anticipating always-on voice assistance both at home and while on the job.
While voice assistant systems didn’t come online as early as many anticipated, there are a number of options, both widely used and in development, and it’s time for businesses to determine is voice assistance is right for their office.
Android and iOS rule the smartphone world, and nearly all devices running these offer voice assistance through Google Assistant and Siri. While these programs are constantly evolving, they already offer broad capabilities, making it easier to schedule activities, set reminders, and find answers to questions. Microsoft’s Cortana is fast making inroads as well, especially since it made its way to PCs, and Amazon’s Alexa has outdone expectations for providing home-based voice assistance. While these programs make voice assistance popular among consumers, they haven’t made much progress in an office setting.
Voice assistance programs are great for organizing your personal life, and they can certainly help for scheduling work-related activities. However, true success in the business world will require a more comprehensive approach.
Artificial intelligence empowers all voice assistant programs, and tailoring programs to business needs is important for gaining more traction. While consumer-targeting voice assistance is great for certain tasks, those in the business world often need finely-tuned information, and new AI paradigms might be able to match this need.
Perhaps the most famous AI program, outside of consumer devices, is IBM’s Watson, which made headlines by scoring strong wins against human opponents on Jeopardy! Since its victory, Watson has gone on to find its way into hospitals and other medical practices, where it can provide medical guidelines based on a large database of scientific literature and excellent natural language recognition capabilities. Other companies are making large investments in the AI field as well, with Qualcomm recently making a large push.
Collaborative Voice Assistance
Perhaps the most valuable field for AI in the office, at least initially, will be collaboration tools. Personal assistance is helpful, but companies operate as teams, and collaboration is the key to success. Voice assistance can help keep everyone updated, and periodic voice reminders can shine in cases where email might be ignored.
Furthermore, voice assistance makes it easier to input new events, potentially encouraging workers to share more information. While popular consumer voice assistance programs can be adjusted to these tasks, it might take a new startup to start transforming the office.
Do People Like Voice Assistance?
Although people frequently try out voice assistance programs, studies show that few continue using them for extended periods of time; most people stop after a few days or weeks. Much like video calling, it might be the case that people simply prefer typed or written notes over automated assistants. To make progress in the business field, voice assistant programs will need to demonstrate real value that lasts beyond when the novelty wears off.
Robotic Service: A Potential Backdoor
Similar to voice assistance, robotic service interfaces are expected to increasingly come online in the coming years, replacing humans during checkout at retail locations. These systems share a number of similarities with voice assistance programs, and packages that combine both front-room and back-room artificial intelligence might provide the breakthrough an office needs to standardize on a voice assistance system.
Fragmentation: Voice Assistance’s Biggest Threat
Large tech companies are investing heavily into voice assistance and AI, and these companies have made tremendous progress. However, businesses want to ensure that they’re investing in technology that will last, and it’s unclear if one voice assistant will eventually reign supreme and pick up the support needed from vendors and third-party developers to thrive in the business environment. Although voice assistance will continue making headway into offices, it’s not clear if or when it will radically change office operations around the globe, or what the killer app will be.
It’s difficult to determine which technologies will eventually take hold. Video calling, a staple of science fiction in the 20th century, has only carved out a niche role, as people seem to prefer voice conversation. Few predicted instant messaging would become popular, but it’s now a significant communication portal. Voice assistance will almost certainly play a role for certain niche purposes, but it remains to be seen how popular it will eventually become.