Bringing voice control to the office of the future

Voice control has been the stuff of sci-fi movies since 2001: A Space Odyssey was released in 1968. But is voice control now a workable solution for the office of the future?

Bringing voice control to the office of the future ZDNet
(Image: Cocoparisienne)

Our knowledge of technology and how it can enhance our home and working life has changed dramatically over the last few years.

In 2014, two thirds of American consumers did not know what a smart home was. Now, almost nine out of 10 consumers know what smart home technology is, according to research from Finn Partners, and three out of 10 of us want to use robots to do our chores.

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With this advancement in the home, it is only natural that technology for smart offices is forging ahead, too. Companies have been working toward the concept of the frictionless office for years. The ability to talk to your computer or other devices has long been on our wish list for seamless communications.

The voice-recognition market is estimated to be over half-a-billion-dollar industry by 2019, and it shows no sign of decreasing as customers rush to buy the next voice assistant.

But this flood of voice-enabled systems is not as new as you may think. Microsoft Exchange 2007, which was released in 2006, had voice control for its unified messaging product.

Users could access their mailbox by voice, triage emails, and send notifications to calendar invitation participants. They could say say "I'll be 10 minutes late," speed up the reading of emails, delete, or move to the next email. Voice control worked well providing users gave clear commands in a relatively noise-free room.

Voice assistants have evolved significantly over the last 10 years, and a plethora of voice assistants, with differing response abilities, are now available.

Earlier this year, cloud-based software platform Teem added voice command to meeting room management to allow people to book meeting rooms through voice control with Amazon Alexa. The system allows them to check into a meeting and extend a meeting on-demand.

Alexa Voice Service (AVS) enables developers integrate Alexa into their products and help Alexa penetrate more than 128 million devices by 2020, as forecasted by RBC.

Accurate voice detection, such as the four-mic solution from Conexant, will remove echoes and noise from the audio, enabling clear audio requests. Far-field processing technology will enable devices to track what is being said more accurately.

It is not just about Amazon Alexa, though. Other vendors are joining the race for voice in the office. Martix Voice enables developers to bring voice-control apps to the Raspberry Pi.

Google Home was shown to be smarter than Amazon Alexa in a test that Stone Temple carried out earlier this year. It has also added ecommerce features to its Google Assistant service. This will enable you to place orders and have conversational exchanges with retailers.

Google Home enabled shopping with its partners in March, completing the commercial component for consumers to order, pay for the transaction, and have the goods delivered.

With voice control becoming more and more important in consumers everyday lives, it does make sense that voice control extends its reach and becomes fully integrated in the office. Adding voice to mundane tasks will enable employees to be as productive as they can be by using a simple interface to manage their workflow and daily tasks.

Voice control will evolve to become ubiquitous in our working lives, just as making a call using voice in your car has become. Voice is poised to become the enabler that helps users better interact with people, places, and technology.

User adoption of the technology will be the final, greatest hurdle.

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