Hey Alexa, What’s Next for Voice Tech? Five Insights into a Voice-First World

By John Stackhouse
Published April 4, 2019 | 2 min read

The most common question people ask their voice tech assistant isn't “How's the weather?" Not anymore. Today, it's “Alexa, will you marry me?"

As a technology, voice is only just revealing its power. Once seen as a fun party trick, voice is coming into its own as a truly new operating system that will disrupt how we interact with technology and each other. John Stackhouse, RBC Senior Vice President of the Office of the CEO, shares his 5 key takeaways on this topic from his conversation with Al Lindsay, Amazon’s VP of Alexa Engineer Software.

The most common question people ask their voice tech assistant isn't “How's the weather?" Not anymore. Today, it's “Alexa, will you marry me?"

This happens hundreds of times a week, according to Al Lindsay, Amazon’s VP of Alexa Engineer Software.

With 80,000 skills and growing, marriage is maybe the one thing Alexa can’t do.

This year, the smart speaker industry will grow to be worth an estimated $7 billion, and demand could potentially surpass that of smartphones.

A Canadian voice tech pioneer, Lindsay joined us at RBC Disruptors, our monthly conversation on innovation and technology, to share his insights into a voice-first world.

Here are 5 takeaways about the future of voice:

 

1. Voice Tech Is Making Smartphones Look Dumb

A lot of people ask, “Why do I need voice tech? I can do everything I want on my smartphone.” For Lindsay, his ah-ha moment was listening to music: “I’d say, play songs from Sting and two seconds later music would be streaming from the speaker.” No more taping on glass, navigating through apps and waiting. We used to see smartphones as the ultimate convenience. Now, voice tech has usurped them, eliminating the need to pull out your phone — and possibly get even more distracted. Voice could allow us to get back to being humans again.

 

2. Personality is Everything

In the beginning, Lindsay and his team were focused on making a voice tech assistant that was smart and helpful — those seemed like the obvious selling points. But customers leaned into Alexa as a persona. “It turns out fun and a sense of humour are appreciated as well,” Lindsay said. The company started adding quirks and funny responses, realizing the more natural interacting with voice tech feels, the easier people will adopt using it.

 

3. Voice Tech Is Disrupting Every Industry

When asked about what industries voice tech is disrupting, Lindsay was definitive: “All of them.” He predicted major changes from health care to hospitality. For hospital patients, smart speakers could handle simple requests like turning on the television or adjusting the bed, saving time and labour. When people go out to dinner, they’ll use voice to order a drink, and to charge the bill to their Visa — “or to the table over there,” he joked.

 

4. Every Business Needs a Voice Strategy

As we move to a more ambient world, small and large businesses alike will need a voice strategy. Similar to deciding on brand colours and slogans, companies will need to ask: Is our voice soothing? Young and fun? More serious? Sound adds a powerful new dimension to brand identity. It also opens up new opportunities. You don’t need to have speech team to have speech as an interface. Anything that has a computer interface, you can replace or augment with voice.

 

5. Voice is the Great Equalizer

Every interface before voice had a learning curve — it takes time to learn to type, or navigate an app. Lindsay said the distinction for voice-tech is that if we can truly achieve a natural conversation experience, technology will be immediately accessible to everyone in the world with language skills.

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John Stackhouse
Senior Vice President, Office of the CEO, Royal Bank of Canada


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