Why the Human Voice Is the Year’s Most Important Technology

The shrinking role of big screens heralds a change in how we communicate with our devices and each other.

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I’m a technologist neither by profession nor by training, but I know a tech trend when I hear one. And I heard one loudly and clearly amidst the roaring clatter of this year’s massive Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.

The human voice is in its ascendancy.

We are witnessing two concurrent phenomena:

  1. As smartphones increase in size, speed, and capability, mobile devices are continuing to replace traditional computers and tablets across a wide variety of tasks and usage. Our media-consumption habits are likewise evolving as a result. With smaller screens, we may not yet be reading less (and this writer fervently hopes we never do), but we are emphatically listening more.
  2. In the age of the internet of things, we will be adapting to a fully screen-free relationship with most of our devices. One doesn’t type a request to Alexa, Siri, or Cortana — one speaks it. One doesn’t read a response; one listens to it. Such will be the case for the smart, connected devices we will all interact with across our homes and offices in a future that will arrive much sooner than you may have expected.

We are entering a transformative period in our relationship with both our personal and professional technology, one in which our reliance on text to both command and consume will be increasingly supplemented — and in many cases supplanted — by our reliance on speech. Interestingly, this trend even appears to hold in our relationships with the only screens in our lives that are growing larger. And the days when your voice-activated GPS and speech-to-text converters understood every third word at best? That was so 10 minutes ago.

Is this a profound change? It certainly has the potential to be. Marketers and media professionals already recognize the growing (and, indeed, returning) power of storytelling. We hear and see it throughout native advertising and custom content; it is even more deliberately on display in the rising popularity of podcasts and other forms of spoken audio.

And the human voice, of course, is the original storytelling device. For many of us, it has never had an equal. If you are in the business of interacting with customers, you should be thinking deeply about how your communications and marketing strategies will need to evolve in the age of sound.

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Topics

Frontiers

An MIT SMR initiative exploring how technology is reshaping the practice of management.
See All Articles in This Section

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Comments (5)
Gregory Blass
In today's global economy tomorrow's adults must take control of their verbal skills as n many many cases business partners sometimes never meet. They form opinions and make decisions based on verbal skills projected via phone and cases now it could be sklype. In the case of skype throw in personal appearance as a contributing factor as well  to form opinions and create partnerships. Business casual is becoming misdefined nowadays 

Future leaders need to take courses at Toastmasters
Jacko Obels
I am within agri-business and application of IT , there you see a lot of sound based solutions , for example hearin the flog in the stables , chicken, pigs and you know how much stress they have, or they are sick. Also it give you extra ears and with that eyes or you should enter the stable, it will give less stress and therefore less contamination by humans and so less anti-biotics. So actually the livestock speaks with the management...
Ismar Kaufman
Human voice interfaces for some systems can help a lot to keep users focused on other more important systems. The obvious case is the autombile, where the user (driver) must concentrate on the windshield, mirrors and so on ("driving system"), leaving the entertainment and communication systems to a second place. But there are many other industrial and personal cases where auxiliary systems could be controlled by voice commands. We are doing that for energy control centers in our power operation management system in Brazil.
SEIJI KAWAKAMI
I am in the auto industry. 

Voice user interface may be more important in cars, where current UI could pose safety issues.  Whether through improvements in embedded systems (of which I rarely use--too clumsy) and/or through the cloud, studies have shown time and time again that VUI is less dangerous than "look and poke" UI.
Helen Jeong
Absolutely I agree with you Paul! I am in smart home industry. It is really getting more common.  A good insight for future smart home strategy!