Voice assistant technology went from zero to more than 100 million U.S. users in its first 10 years. Today a full third of the population uses Siri, Alexa, or Google Assistant on a regular basis. But for all their success over the past decade, voice assistants remain a largely domestic phenomenon. That’s about to change.
Over the next few years, voice assistants will leave home. They’ll enter more and more devices—and more than a few robots—in settings from workplaces to grocery stores to hospitals. They’ll travel with us in wearables and in-ear devices, and conversations with machines will become the norm, both in and out of the home.
This is the decade when the voice user interface hits critical velocity. Here are 7 voice assistant trends that will accelerate the transition.
1. Voice assistants will venture beyond the smart speaker.
Over the next decade, the internet of things will get a lot more vocal. We’ll use speech to interact with televisions, thermostats, refrigerators, and more. Meanwhile, new types of wearable smart products—especially hearables like advanced headphones, interactive hearing aids, and new in-ear devices—will feature voice assistants as a value-add.
Not all of these products will come from Apple or Amazon, either. Expect new manufacturers to enter the wearable and hearable markets. Expect established brands from outside the tech space to join them.
2. Branded voices will join native assistant personas.
Alexa, Siri, and Google Assistant are native personas—voices we associate with specific devices such as the Amazon Echo or the iPhone. So if you ask an Amazon Echo about the newest Air Jordans, Alexa delivers the news. That associates Amazon with Nike’s content—and the content of every other brand Alexa talks about. Ultimately, having a single voice talk about a variety of products flattens the difference between competing brands.
Soon brands will roll out their own custom personas for voice-based interactions with consumers; Nike, for example, will be able to tell you about the latest Air Jordans itself. In the absence of visual branding, a distinctive branded voice is a crucial identifier. Branded voices are here, and companies that wait to develop them will have to scramble to catch up.
3. Voice assistants will match emotional tone to specific interactions.
Human customer service agents are experts at finding just the right tone for the situation. They’re upbeat when making a sale, then concerned when addressing a complaint. Over the next decade, voice assistants will learn the same tactics.
When you call an airline to book a flight, the automated system’s persona may sound cheerful. If it calls you back to announce a cancellation, it will strike a more sober tone. And if it starts out cheery and you respond with anger, it will lower the optimism to address your concerns. The result will be more natural, human-like conversations between digital systems and the people who use them.
4. Neural text-to-speech will replace traditional speech generation.
The precursor to today’s voice assistant technology was the automated phone system, or integrated voice response (IVR). Early IVRs used recordings of actors reading scripted responses, an expensive process that could delay rollout for months or even years.
Neural text-to-speech technology is changing all that. Today, we can train neural networks on an hour or two of original human speech. Then those networks generate neural voices that adjust speed, intonation, and rhythm to match the sound of human conversation in extraordinary detail. They’re capable of reading out whatever computer-generated script they’re given, and sound like people while they do it. Neural voice is more cost-effective in the long term and quicker to market than recordings, and more natural than affectless digital speech.
5. Bots will act as voice assistants in commercial settings.
Chatbots and honest-to-goodness robots will use voice assistant technology to better serve customers in a variety of physical and digital settings. For instance:
- At the grocery store, self-checkout kiosks may mention relevant deals or make product recommendations: “I see you’re buying guacamole. Did you know corn chips are on sale?”
- Digital concierge systems will guide guests through hospitality experiences, answering questions in hotels, on cruise ships, and at the airport. Touch-free, contactless customer service will help these industries bounce back from the COVID-19 slump.
- Voice-powered receptionists will welcome visitors to buildings, guide them to the right floor, and call them a cab after the visit. They may be kiosks, speakers built into the wall, or even physical robots installed behind a desk.
- Ordering kiosks at fast-food restaurants will use voice assistants to take orders. They’ll use familiar, branded voices for a consistent experience across channels.
Advanced voice user interfaces, complete with lifelike neural speech generation, will power a proliferation of bots, online and off.
6. Consumers will demand more privacy protections from digital assistant devices.
Customers worry about devices that are always on, and always listening. Today, more than 40 percent of voice assistant users have concerns about trust and privacy. Expect that trend to continue. Over the next decade, companies will need to be more upfront about how they protect their users’ data.
The European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) provides a potential blueprint for protecting user data. Voice assistants in new spaces may need to begin the conversation with a privacy statement and ask the user to opt in before proceeding.
7. Today’s voice assistant trends will contribute to the construction of the emerging voice economy.
For now, voice assistants are the most familiar example of machine speech comprehension and generation—but they won’t be for long. By 2030, expect to see, for example, speaking vending machines that can match the dialect of an approaching customer. Look for voice-activated scheduling systems on the office server. Have a conversation about your target heart rate with a treadmill at the gym. Automated cabs aren’t far off, according to Tesla and Uber, and they’ll operate by voice.
These voice assistant trends are combining to create a distinct communication channel between brands and the public: the voice economy. ReadSpeaker has been on the cutting edge of these developments for more than 20 years. Contact us to learn how ReadSpeaker can help your company join in.