The Voice is Dead, Long Live the Voice!

by Jeff Wiener on June 10, 2016

red-phoneThere is an oft used (and often misunderstood) phrase I came across the other day, “The King is dead, long live the King!” At first glance it seems oxymoronic, wishing one a long life when one is already so clearly dead, but the phrase itself (originally in French) is meant to indicate the seamless transition from one King to another, lamenting the death of the first while celebrating the life of the second.

Then I got to thinking, as it was with monarchies of old, so it is with voice communication today. Traditional voice communication is dead (or at least well on its way out), but voice itself is alive and well… it just happens to look a lot different than it did before.

In fact, as telecom companies the world over (myself among them) loudly proclaim the death of voice traffic—supported by innumerable studies pointing to changing generational communication styles—it seems, to steal yet another quote, that reports of the death of voice have been greatly exaggerated, and what we’re seeing instead is an evolution of voice communication that caters directly our constantly connected lifestyle.

As Mary Meeker, general partner at Kleiner Perkins Caulfield & Byers and author of the highly respected ‘Internet Trends’ report, argues, the future of digital communication will indeed be voice communication, largely because it is both hands and vision-free. “Voice lends itself to an ‘always on’ way of life.”

“Humans can speak 150 words per minute, for instance, but can type only 40 words per minute. The conversational aspect of the medium lends itself to personalized experiences with computers understanding context from previous questions the user has asked and the user’s location.”

Simply put, while the Millennial generation now trends towards text-based communication, it does so only because the most advanced technology available to them supports that medium. In fact, one needs only to look at the meteoric rise of the largely text and touch-based iPhone to understand that we tend to use the best format that suits our desired digital lifestyle, and right now, that’s unquestionably text communication…but not for long.

In fact, as voice recognition technology continues to improve, Meeker argues that it will usher in another radical paradigm shift back to voice, where we’ll go from barely using speech recognition apps at all, to not knowing how we ever lived without them.

“Speech recognition accuracy rose to about 90 percent in 2016 from about 70 percent in 2010. And the use of voice has been rising noticeably. Google voice search queries, for example, are up 35 times since 2008. Sales of voice-based devices such as Amazon Echo could be just about to take off, compared to more text-dominated devices such as the iPhone, whose sales peaked in 2015.”

Just imagine what voice recognition technology will be like when its accuracy hits 99% and we can speak to it as if we’re speaking to another human being? Sure traditional voice communication will have long gone the way of the Dodo bird, but voice itself will be alive and well. In fact, given our intrinsic ability to communicate with our voice, it will undoubtedly be the strongest and most versatile medium going forward.

I’ll admit that I’ve penned a great many words about the death of voice communication, and the strange part is I’m both right and wrong in my assessment. I’m right in saying that traditional voice communication using some sort of mobile or desktop handset is on the way out (in fact, it might be dead already), but I’m wrong in saying that text-based communication is the wave of the future. The reality is that text communication is simply a stopover, a stepping stone while the future of speech recognition technology is developed, a future where I can interact with anyone or anything in my connected world by using one of the most simple and straightforward tools I have…my voice.

Previous post:

Next post: