Using voice to control and communicate with machines is becoming increasingly common. This behavioral shift in how we interact with our most valuable and powerful tools has profound implications for many aspects of our relationship with technology and broader society.
The recent movement towards a world of voice control has accelerated rapidly with the advent of generative AI and large-scale language models. Instead of the formal and often frustrating conversations we're used to having with machines like Alexa and Siri, generative AI provides naturally flowing, contextual, and two-way communication.
One person who has carefully considered these implications is author and WillowTree president Tobias Dengel.in his recent book Sound of the future – the coming era of voice technologyDengel explores how the world could change as the last technological barriers to machine programming and control collapse.
Why is voice so transformative?
Dengel argues that changes in the way we communicate with machines have far broader implications than simply being able to talk to them.
The more contextual and fluid nature of natural language means we can use technology more efficiently and make it more accessible to many people.
During our conversation he said: “He can speak three times as fast as a human can type on a keyboard. He is probably five times as fast as the average person can type on a mobile device. This is the core This is an insight.
“If you can do what used to take three minutes in 15 seconds, I guarantee you the world will change overnight.”
His position is that the world is moving very quickly towards a model where voice is the primary interface with machines. In other words, for complex machine operations such as computer programming, there is no longer a need to learn the machine language, because the machine just speaks the machine language.
Accessibility is a big issue here. The transition to voice will democratize technology, allowing more and more diverse people to make complex systems work and solve problems. Dengel's position is that this is not just a matter of convenience. It's a fundamental shift in our relationship with technology.
As he says, “Every interface between humans and machines will go voice-first.”
voice in action
Throughout his book, and in our conversations, Tobias provides examples of how this change is already happening.
Of course, these include the voice assistants we all have in our homes and phones, but he makes it clear that this trend goes far beyond Alexa and Siri.
One of his favorite examples, he says, is Cathay Pacific, which is introducing natural language technology into assistant tools designed to help with routine aircraft maintenance and cleaning.
“They can now go about their business and hear, 'Hey, the armrest in seat 13C is broken.'”
He also highlights voice control technology that was developed for military aircraft and is now being implemented in civil aviation.
“All the accidents happened because the pilots didn't know what the plane was doing and couldn't coordinate with the plane. Turn off the autopilot, do XYZ, go there, whatever it is. That way, such an accident could have been avoided.”
An example of how it could revolutionize everyday technology: allowing users to simply ask for what they want and get the results, rather than navigating through hundreds of possible functions on a tiny screen. He suggests that banking apps would be vastly improved.
He also mentioned one of his customers, WillowTree, a major soft drink company, which developed a voice system that allows customers to order replacement parts for machines and dispensers in vending machines and restaurants using just their voice. This saves time previously spent searching for location codes and item codes in catalogs.
Ethics and issues
The impact of this change on society cannot be overstated. One of the biggest questions is about the impact on human work and employment.
“Everything points to us having more jobs,” Dengel said.
“And I think this is where policy-making, the government, has to step in and help.”
He believes the roles most clearly at risk are roles such as call center operators, which are already being made redundant by conversational AI tools.
However, he argues that this will be offset by the creation of new jobs, such as “ready-to-work engineers,” as well as the many ways AI can be used to create value.
The questions raised regarding security are equally serious. We are already seeing AI voice spoofing being used by scammers and blackmailers. As AI becomes cheaper and more accessible, there is a real risk that these attacks will expand and create more victims.
But Dengel is less worried about the more far-fetched concerns that are sometimes raised.
he says: “There's a lot of talk about AI going out of control and fighting humans, but I don't really worry about that, at least not in our lifetimes.
“ChatGPT is great, but you can't even change the mailing address on your American Express card right now because it's not connected to the system. But it can be used very effectively for evil.”
Prepare for the future of voice
So how can you ensure you're prepared for the global transition to voice-controlled technology and natural language conversations with machines?
The answer, Dengel suggests, lies in meeting this challenge head-on. This means assembling a team of technologists, engineers, designers, communication experts, and business leaders. Their core focus is to identify opportunities and potential risks to the business so that they can be managed proactively rather than reactively.
“That's always the first step,” he says. “You start defining what is possible, but you also bring in the technical people, so you do it with practical considerations in mind… and create a roadmap.”
It's a “workshop” approach pioneered by Apple and adopted by various tech giants who are at the forefront of a new wave of change. But this is equally true for almost any forward-thinking business or organization that doesn't want to be caught by surprise.
Dengel said he recently told a group of interns: Generation AI gathers. It's just a great experience and a great time. ”