I still remember my first encounter voice recognition software. I was at a friend’s house sometime during 1997 and he had just gotten a new software package. It came with a headset that had a microphone. It looked cool, not that it was my first time seeing a headset with a microphone, but this was different, it was at someone’s house rather than on TV. Then he showed me how he could open up different applications and perform easy tasks like saving a file and such just by speaking to the microphone. The software only recognized some words and it also had to be very clearly spoken. In addition, it also required a sample of your voice before it would function properly. Nonetheless, it was cool.
I had seen this same technology being displayed in the movies. We all remember the Sci-Fi shows where someone would yell “Computer, give me the status on the hyper drive.” It almost seemed surreal. It always made me thing back to my high school years and my physiology teacher who had a banner that said; “The science fiction of today will be the science fact of tomorrow.”
I have seen many applications of this technology. Our cell phones use voice recognition to dial “Home” or “Mom.” Many cars are now equipped with cell phones with voice recognition dialers. Many credit card companies now let you speak your card number instead of pushing the numbers. Changing your address information stored by a company does not require another human being involved. If you speak clearly, you can change your address by following the prompts that will ask you for the information. Some technical support lines now accept your voice responses beyond a simple “yes” or “no.”
There are also many applications for this technology helping people with disabilities. Some universities allow students to take oral test given by a computer rather than one on one with a teacher. Just check out Vocomo to get a sense of how Interactive Voice Response (IVR) is a reality that can be on our fingertips not just as an added feature but also as a built in feature for many products in the near future.
The most common application of this technology still today is customer service. Moreover, it is meeting with resistance from consumers. Will people carry the stigma that automated voice response systems have now to consumer electronics and everyday life? It is still early to tell but as fast food places move to use voice recognition for order taking we might start to take a stance.
Personally, I love new technology and will embrace it. At the same time, I understand the frustration that many experience when trapped in an endless loop on an automated response system. Also, we need to remember that by nature we like dealing with other humans rather than machines. Or do we? If the technology was such that there was no added frustration would we still prefer to talk to another human? That is the question that I give you to ponder.