How voice-activated technology can transform your workplace


It’s great asking Alexa or Google Home or Cortana about the weather forecast for Seattle (rain again!), or what “proprioception” means, or who the Washington Nationals are playing tonight.

But those are pretty simple transactions: Ask a direct question requiring a narrow, definable answer, and you get that answer. This is very useful as far as it goes, but how much more can we expect from voice-activated technologies, particularly in the workplace?

The folks at Forbes Technology Council (FTC) recently came up with “12 exciting ways” voice-recognition technology can be used in the enterprise. They run the gamut from “not particularly exciting but useful” to “now that really would be great!”

In the former category is “improving customer service phone support.” If you’ve recently been trapped on a hellish interactive voice response (IVR) call — you know, where the IVR software fails to understand your clear and explicit request! and then presents you with maddeningly irrelevant options — you come to appreciate the Siris of the world, imperfect as they are. Voice-activated assistant technology will continue to improve as natural language processing evolves. This means better and more natural interactions between humans and customer support software.

The latter category includes a little something for programmers. Anyone who has done extensive coding (or typing) knows the toll that banging on a keyboard and moving a cursor can take on your hands and wrists. FTC member Thomas Griffin, co-founder of enterprise email marketing platform start-up OptinMonster, told Forbes he’s “looking forward to new coding languages using voice-activated technology.”

Writers and medical professionals have been using Dragon NaturallySpeaking speech recognition software for years. It’s pretty good once you train it, but go beyond speaking words intended as text to issuing formatting commands, and it gets more challenging. Some people report success building DIY solutions for voice coding using Dragon, but as with any DIY, there are no guarantees regarding results or the amount of work required. I’m sure programmers join Griffin in his desire for seamless, out-of-box, voice-activated coding platforms.

Voice-activated technology already is being used — or is expected to be soon — to improve efficiency and cut expenses in healthcare, financial services, manufacturing, IT management and more. If you compare voice-activated software quality today to five years ago, the progress is clear and impressive. Expect similar progress five years from now.

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