Kimmo Kuisma

By Kimmo Kuisma

In recent years, speech recognition technology has advanced at great speed and it’s no wonder. It makes our lives easier and more fluent in many ways. Voice-controlled devices free us from typing, swiping and pushing buttons.

Many of us have been introduced to voice control while using smartphones, tablets, and smart speakers as they have become increasingly popular in recent years. Big tech companies race to launch new smart speaker models which allow users to listen to music, check the weather, and control the lighting in their homes using voice commands. Companies, in turn, are capitalising on voice control technology to automate their customer support and telephone services. But compared to what the future is predicted to hold for voice-user interfaces, this is just the beginning.

Does Voice Control Work in Finnish?

Voice control is ultimately based on automatisation. In its simplicity, voice control technology is based on controlling devices with spoken commands. These voice-controlled devices may also give users information or ask them questions. Compared to traditional user interfaces, voice-user interfaces allow for ad-hoc interaction with applications as the user does not have to take their smartphone out of their pocket or open their computer.

The development of voice-user interfaces has been strongest in English speaking countries and this has also led to the popularity of voice-controlled devices in these areas. At the end of 2018 for example, over 30 percent of homes in the United States owned a voice-controlled smart speaker. Smartphones already have voice-user interfaces as a default feature.

Voice-user interfaces work most fluently in English, but Apple’s Siri also understands Finnish. However, applications often have difficulties with inarticulate speech and speech recognition can be unreliable with informal speech. We also noticed this in December 2018 while developing an application designed to interact with Fonecta Finder using the Amazon Echo speaker. The app was programmed to search for peoples’ and companies’ contact details and provide the search results to the user via a smart speaker. During implementation, we noticed that the speech recognition system leaned heavily towards English. For example, it interpreted the name of the Finnish president Sauli Niinistö as salini stop or salini Easter. Speech recognition accuracy is, however, likely to improve considerably as the technology evolves further.

What Does the Future Hold for Voice Control?

Voice control technology allows companies to pursue various new business possibilities. At the moment, voice-user interfaces are at a point where users determine which application they want to use but in the future, artificial intelligence is likely to make that call for us.

In the upcoming years, voice-controlled smart homes are predicted to be a major emerging trend, as centralised voice control systems become more common in household appliances, heating devices, and security systems. This trend is already very evident in the United States. Voice-controlled homes may prolong the time that elderly people are able to continue living at home and thus help solve a growing sociological challenge caused by population ageing.

Voice control technology creates new business possibilities in many other fields, as well. Alexa for Business, for example, has brought voice control to the workplace. With personal assistants taking care of repetitive work such as calendar management and meeting invites, employees have more time to focus on more demanding tasks. Fast food restaurants are also automating their customer services at a fast pace and some places already allow food orders to be made using voice control.

The way people and machines interact using speech is going to evolve at an increasing speed. It is important to keep researching and testing voice control systems in different contexts because of the variation in how different segments use and consume digital services. In any event, acknowledging and understanding the future potential of voice control technology is essential for the national economy and for growth companies aiming for the global market.

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