The pandemic changed everything about people’s lives, including how they interact with voice technology. NPR’s Smart Audio report shows that more people use their smart devices every day; There was a 6 percent increase in the number of people using voice commands at least once per day from December 2019 to April 2020.
Before COVID-19, many workers were outside their homes for eight hours or more. They didn’t have access to their smart devices, and they generally felt more comfortable using voice commands in private. But the shift to remote work meant more time at home and more opportunities to explore technology.
The trend towards voice-activated technology shows no signs of stopping. According to a study by Office Depot, more than 50% of employees want to keep telecommuting, and about 25% want a mix of personal and remote work.
Smart speakers and voice assistants have become a mainstay of hybrid work over the past year as people’s daily routines have gotten stronger.
How voice technology can evolve to support hybrid workplaces
Voice technology has come a long way since Siri was first announced. During the pandemic, grocery stores and other retailers added voice tech and touchless payment options to self-checkout kiosks to provide a secure experience for customers. Researchers are also exploring how voice assistants can support the healthcare industry.
The future of voice technology is undoubtedly bright, but it will need to keep evolving to become a staple of the new hybrid workplace. People expect voice technology to fit naturally into existing workflows, so any bottleneck or error that hinders adoption could spell trouble for the continued uptake of voice-first technology.
Here’s what will change as more remote workers buy and use smart devices:
1. Algorithms need to be based on a variety of voices.
It is clear that some voice recognition technology has been trained and programmed using correct pronunciation, “Standard North American English” and crystal-clear recordings. Unfortunately, these algorithms are not very useful in the real world.
Smart speakers and other devices need to be able to navigate ambient noise, background sounds, regional dialects, international accents, incomplete pronunciation, speech impediments, and more before they can be helpful in a hybrid workplace.
Thankfully, some companies are tackling these issues directly. I recently spoke to a woman whose child was unable to speak. He spent hours in a Google recording studio, helping the company’s assistants improve his programming.
Additionally, Apple has collected a database of approximately 30,000 audio clips of stuttering speakers. True voice recognition won’t happen overnight, but should help algorithms become as accurate as possible for different ages, voice pitch and other characteristics.
2. New users need an excellent experience.
Much depends on past experiences. When someone turns on their smart speaker or voice assistant and asks to make a call, they expect it to go through without any problems. If the technology fails on that first exchange, users will be less inclined to try it again in the future. It is all tied to basic learning behaviour.
While smart speakers get all the press, the rate of adoption of voice technology by smartphone users is quite high. For smart devices to become more useful to hybrid workers, companies will need to prioritize the “wow” factor and pull out all the stops to make a great first impression.
For example, can the technology be integrated with laptops and computers? Can the devices be controlled remotely? These are questions that activists will ask going forward.
3. Voice technology training will need to become more diverse and inclusive.
There are plenty of examples of algorithmic bias, such as Amazon’s hiring assistants favoring men and a reappraisal prediction tool called COMPAS misclassifying black defendants as more likely to commit additional crimes. . These disparities suggest that technology as a whole needs to be improved as it pertains to diversity, equality and inclusion.
In a study that looked at speech recognition devices from Amazon, Google, IBM, Apple and Microsoft, the collective software was 16% more likely to misidentify words if the speaker was black.
This may not sound like a high percentage, but think about correcting four out of every 25 words that you speak or type. Unless it is resolved, this problem will prevent people from adopting sound technology.
Like many other sectors, the pandemic accelerated the adoption of voice-activated technologies. With employees around the world demanding increased flexibility and safety precautions, voice tech has secured a permanent position as the mainstay of the future of work.