By Hazel Moore
In 2007 the iPhone was released, unleashing a revolution in consumer behaviour. This rapidly spilled into enterprise IT as consumers, used to the convenience and mobility that smartphones offered in their personal lives, started to demand the same from their workplace. We believe the next major revolution in enterprise technology is going to be voice, again driven by changes in consumer behaviour. The Amazon Echo was only released at the end of 2014, but by March 2018 almost 1 in 5 Americans had a smart speaker in their home and were using their voice for an ever-increasing number of applications including ordering groceries, playing music and setting security alerts.
The most natural way for humans to communicate is via speech. However in the enterprise little of this is captured or used and to date this major source of highly valuable data has not been exploited. We believe this is about to change.
Today, voice recognition systems are as accurate as humans, according to the chart on slide 25 of Mary Meeker’s 2018 Internet Trends report. Meanwhile the number of Alexa skills grew by 266% in 2018, as developers race to create voice-enabled apps for Siri or Alexa.
Enterprise use cases are emerging such as Otter, the innovative voice recognition and recording app, billed as ‘the voice equivalent of facial recognition’. Built by AISense in the Valley, Otter promises to revolutionise the way we record meeting minutes, interview transcriptions and even informal brainstorming sessions. Larger companies are also leading the way. In one of the larger artificial intelligence M&A deals of 2017, Cisco bought MindMeld to enhance its collaboration suite. Meanwhile Amazon is making a major play on bringing Alexa into the Enterprise.
There are issues, however including major implications for security, privacy and data protection. “Always listening” devices will need to provide appropriate protection to address these concerns. There are obvious applications for voice in sales for example, but many people would feel uncomfortable about having their every call recorded, archived and available for analysis.
European companies are at the forefront of voice technology and many of the largest strategic buyers are turning to Europe to fill their tech needs. Amazon’s Alexa is built on the technology developed by Evi, a UK based start-up, which Amazon acquired in 2012, while Apple bought VocalIQ, a speech processing company also based in Cambridge, in 2014. William Tunstall-Pedoe, the founder of Evi, predicts that in 10 years all technology will respond to voice.
The adoption of voice functionality is already softening the boundary between digital and human communication across the board, from financial services to consumer tech. It’s a trend that Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella is putting his money on. He speaks for many when he says: “New devices that have increasingly natural ways to interact and apply machine learning to make technology more intuitive [….] using natural methods of communications [is] our future.” The future talks.