Doctor Who could not do it. Captain James T Kirk could not do it. My children will be able to do it – and they will accept it as commonplace.
I am talking about controlling your preferred method of transport – whether that is the Tardis, the USS Enterprise or the family car – with your voice. All that tiresome fiddling with the controls before the Tardis dumped the Doctor in Ancient Rome instead of back on Gallifrey: constantly having to ask Mr Sulu to set the controls for Alpha Centauri…
Ten, 20, 30 years from now my children will simply jump in the car and say, ‘Take me to Manchester.’
‘OK,’ the car will reply. ‘We’ll be there in two hours and 40 minutes. What music would you like to listen to?’
But it is not just the car
We tend to think of the US as the land of cutting-edge technology – in fact, when it comes to using your voice, Europe leads the way.
In the US 87% of people are aware of voice and text aides, but the EU is streets ahead when it comes to using new technology from Apple, Amazon and Microsoft for their daily shopping needs.
According to research from Mastercard, 21% of consumers have made purchases using a voice app like Alexa or Siri. 16% have made payments and 7% trust the apps so much they use them for day to day banking.
You only need to go online this morning and read about House of Fraser to know that the tech giants are continuing to “disrupt” the high street.
The use of voice technology for shopping is only going to increase – last week Yandex (Russia’s answer to Amazon and Google) released its own smart speaker to cater to the Russian market. At which point you might say, ‘Smart speaker? What smart speaker?’
There was the story recently of an Amazon Echo sending a long recording of a couple’s conversation to a random contact. Fortunately – like all couples that have been married a while – they were only talking about hardwood flooring.
Closer to home my youngest son is called Alex. About once a week Alexa thinks we want to include her in the conversation and pipes up with some random information or starts playing a song on my wife’s playlist.
So what do people order with their voice?
The most popular categories for shoppers using voice assistants include ordering meals (56%), electronics (52%) and groceries or toiletries (45%). Analysis from strategy consultants OC&C suggest that by 2022 UK consumers will be spending just short of £4bn a year through voice commerce, representing approximately 3% of the country’s total; online spend.
Ann Cairns, the vice-chairman at Mastercard, said,
“The rapid growth and innovation of voice technology has real potential to change the way we live and do business – for the better.”
Hmmm… I am not sure that broadcasting my intimate conversations with my wife – “We need more dog food” – constitutes changing my life for the better, but voice recognition/technology is here to stay. What else is it going to change?
I have gazed into my trusty crystal ball – and there is technology that will never be “disrupted” – to make a few predictions:
First of all the systems that are competing at the moment – from Amazon, Google and Apple – will come together. Consumers are going to want seamless voice recognition across all their devices and sooner or later Alexa and Siri are going to hook up.
Secondly, as I suggested in the introduction, our cars are going to be transformed – that’s assuming we own a car. As I wrote recently, the evidence is clear that increased use of ride-sharing apps leads to a decrease in car ownership. But if you own a car – or hail one from Uber – the car is not just going to drive itself, it is going to provide you with information at the same time. BMW is incorporating Alexa into its cars from this year, allowing drivers to ask for directions, check the news and operate the radio.
Assistants like Alexa are going to become more intuitive. If I have a criticism of Alexa at the moment it is that she is, frankly, boring. We have had her for about a year and – like I suspect, to a great many people – she is little more than a glorified timer. But that will change and as machine learning develops, so will Alexa’s ability to understand ‘normal’ questions.
Intelligent assistants are also going to be in every room in your house. You may not yet have heard the phrase ambient computing – or ambient intelligence. It refers to computers that are sensitive and responsive to the presence of people: think HAL in 2001, a Space Odyssey…
Ultimately your ‘computer’ will be in every room in your house, and it will talk back to you.
And now the bad news…
Hands up: who uses their mobile phone while they are sitting on the loo? Well, apparently 75% of Americans do, and I am ashamed to admit that I do as well. If there was ‘ambient intelligence’ in the bathroom, would I use it? Of course, I would: ‘Alexa/Siri, just read me the latest football transfer rumours will you?’
Many of us complain that despite all the labour saving devices around today we actually have less free time than our parents did. Would always having instant, voice-activated access to our work diaries and e-mails reduce our stress levels? I very much doubt it…
…And neither would they be reduced by Alexa/Siri saying, ‘Hey! Have you heard about the latest deal at Domino’s pizza? Want me to repeat the order you placed last week?’ As voice technology becomes more intelligent and more intuitive, so it will enable advertisers to deliver ever more personal advertising and – as Amazon does now – to remember your ‘voice browsing’ history.
So that is the vision of the future I leave you with this morning. You climb into the car and tell it to take you to Manchester. ‘No problem,’ the car says. Somewhere on the journey, Alexa suggests you might be hungry. ‘How about a pizza and Coke?’ she suggests. Ten minutes later a drone is hovering overhead. The sunroof opens: your lunch is delivered…