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Siri, Evi and a future where 'everything will be controlled by voice'

Karen Haslam | Sept. 11, 2012
Industry experts are predicting that in a few years time we will all be talking to lifts and our stereo systems, and feeling puzzled if they don’t respond to us.

If like 30% of Macworld readers who own a iPhone 4S, you think that Siri is rubbish, you may be surprised to hear that industry experts are predicting that in a few years time we will all be talking to lifts and our stereo systems, and feeling puzzled if they don't respond to us.

Asymco analyst Horace Dediu thinks that the next new input method "will be voice" rather than the touch screen, and he suggest that while it's still early days for Siri, the technology has the potential to disrupt the industry.

Not surprisingly, William Tunstall-Pedoe, the Cambridge-based entrepreneur and businessman who founded Siri-competitor Evi, agrees. "In the future absolutely everything will be controlled by voice," he told Macworld UK. "You'll be surprised in the future when you talk to your television set and it doesn't do anything. It will be the way that everything is controlled."

"Right now you see kids trying to swipe picture frames and wondering why it doesn't move. I think in the future people will be surprised when we stand in front of a piece of technology and ask it to do something and it doesn't respond. That will be odd," he added.

"The future has always been about speech. Speech is the natural way to communicate. It's a totally natural human way of asking for information, communicating information, and making things happen," he continued.

Breakthrough speech interpretation technology

It was only a matter of time before we would start to communicate with computers using voice - the only thing stopping us doing so being the ability of speech recognition technology to understand our meaning, until now that is. Tunstall-Pedoe revealed that we are at an exciting time when the technologies that enable us to have a natural conversation with a computer, have turned the corner in terms of being "practical and useful".

Tunstall-Pedoe explained: "The only reason why computers aren't controlled by speech is because the technology up until very recently hasn't been good enough. That's the only reason. And what's happened in the last few years is that speech recognition - the technology that turns sound into text - has improved, and also natural language understanding - the piece that takes that text and makes sense of it and answers questions (which is the technology that Siri and our company, Evi, uses) has also become available."

Both Evi, and Siri, use Nuance's voice recognition technology, but it's the technology that understands the meaning of what you say that is the breakthrough. Tunstall-Pedoe told us: "Our technology is about understanding the world, understanding what the user means, making sense of it, and responding directly. There are questions you can ask that can be phrased in millions of ways. You have to intuitively understand what a question means, no matter how it's phrased. It's very difficult to get a computer to do that. And similarly you and I have got lots and lots of knowledge in our brains, common sense knowledge about the world, and we can draw on that knowledge, but that's an extremely challenging for a computer, computers don't usually store knowledge in a way that they can process and understand."


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