Will voice command technology replace keyboards? As voice search becomes more widely used, many futurists have theorized that soon we won’t need keyboards, computer mice or buttons on devices. Instead, computer input could come exclusively from voice commands.
But some aren’t so convinced. The mass extinction of a staple technology like a keyboard will likely be more gradual.
Predictions for Voice
While it might not be as extreme as a brain-computer interface, voice technology is eliminating the barriers between people and computers.
“What’s clear to me today is that the keyboard in five years will be gone as an input device,” Mark Tluszcz, a venture capitalist with a track record for successfully predicting technology, told CNBC.
Other tech experts have a more moderate outlook. According to The Conversation, voice interfaces still have limitations that can’t be solved by better technology. Noise pollution is a challenge — voice assistants are getting better at ignoring background noise, but anyone who has attempted voice commands in a noisy environment will attest that it’s not worth the hassle. Noise pollution goes both ways, because talking to your device in a public setting is creating noise that didn’t exist just a few years ago.
The Conversation also points out that voice commands can be distracting. Researchers have found that voice commands derail your train of thought more than typing. While this is only a minor nuisance in most circumstances, it can be dangerous for driving. Recent studies found that when drivers used voice commands, they were distracted for nearly half a minute.
Popular Applications for Voice Command Technology
Many of today’s vehicles are equipped with speech recognition controls that could improve safety by helping drivers keep their eyes on the road. Instead of texting or turning a radio nob while driving, you can tell your car what to do. According to language technology firm Globalme, your car’s speech system could also tell you important messages. It could let you know when your car’s gas tank or battery is low, and it could give you directions to the nearest gas station.
While we often consider voice commands for consumer goods, they are also improving military technology. The F-35 fighter aircraft is equipped with a speech recognition system that enables pilots to give the aircraft voice commands. Military Machine points out that this lets pilots focus on other mission-critical tasks instead of scrolling through the instrument panel.
Devices such as our cell phones and speakers are now equipped with voice assistants such as Apple’s Siri, Amazon’s Alexa and Google Assistant. These tech giants already have hundreds of millions of pre-existing users, and the latest voice technology can be integrated into their devices with a simple software update, according to Globalme. With these updates, we can play music, look up a recipe and follow directions — all without lifting a finger.
Learning and Disability Assistance
Voice command technology can help people who are learning a new language practice pronunciation. Most importantly, according to The Conversation, voice interfaces help users with disabilities such as motor impairments, repetitive stress injuries (such as carpal tunnel) or dyslexia.
Future Applications: TBD
Even Tluszcz, the investor who is convinced that voice will soon replace typing, suggests that the future of voice command technology isn’t guaranteed. He told CNBC that voice could either be “a nice add-on” for companies or a “cataclysmic change to the user experience.” There’s no doubt that voice recognition is growing, but we can’t be certain how the growth will continue in the future.
The Conversation suggests that voice interfaces won’t take over entirely, but they will be useful tools in our cars and as voice assistants through devices such as smart speakers.
There are so many ways that voice recognition is already being used, and likely many more applications in the future. But just like other technology overhauls such as word processors, smartphones and the internet, change won’t happen overnight. How will voice commands be used in the future? There are likely many applications we can’t even imagine in the context of today.
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