How Will Technology Change by 2020?

It’s a good question — one that the people at the Pew Internet and American Life Project posed to a number of technology leaders. You can read their thoughts on where technology is going here.

Many of the respondents are optimistic about the future of speech recognition, predicting its wide adoption and broad use in our daily lives by 2020. Others are not so optimistic:

“Voice will continue to be the most over-sold, over-hyped, but unused interface,” noted Walt Dickie, executive vice president and CTO for C&R Research.

“Voice recognition has been a holy grail of computing since ‘Star Trek’ in the 1960s,” wrote Charles Ess, a researcher on online culture and ethics based at Drury University in Springfield, Missouri, a leader of the Association of Internet Researchers. “Like the artificial intelligence that was supposed to make it happen…it has faltered for a host of reasons, beginning with technical ones. Perhaps there will be some sort of technological breakthrough in the next few years that will make voice-recognition workable and affordable – but I’m not optimistic.”

Perhaps the issue is less about speech recognition technology advancing to the point where we can carry on conversations with helpful machines just as we do with other humans (a la Star Trek) and more about adjusting our expectations for the role that speech recognition can play in how we interact with devices.

I’ve always thought that speech could most effectively play a complimentary role to other types of user interfaces (keyboard, mouse, stylus, touch screen).

I predict that by 2020 we will have better aligned out expectations of how speech recognition technology can be used, and that we will have more fully embraced the notion of multi-modality.

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3 thoughts on “How Will Technology Change by 2020?

  1. I think you’re right, FWIW – one of the comments I would have added as a follow-up, had they been possible, is very much along these lines. That is, one of the things that made the Palm such a workable device was not the perfection of handwriting recognition software – but rather the recognition that humans are still much more flexible than machines, and we can, relatively quickly, learn Graffiti, rather than put the entire cognitive overhead of the interface on the software. If this is what you mean by “adjusting our expectations for the role that speech recognition can play” – namely, that a speech-recognition equivalent to Graffiti might require us to learn a few tricks that are worth it in terms of overall enhancement of our interaction / efficiency – then yes, FWIW, I think you’re exactly right.
    cheers,
    – c.


  2. If this is what you mean by “adjusting our expectations for the role that speech recognition can play” – namely, that a speech-recognition equivalent to Graffiti might require us to learn a few tricks that are worth it in terms of overall enhancement of our interaction / efficiency…

    That’s exactly what I meant.

    Don’t get me wrong – I’m as excited by speech recognition as the next guy (if the next guy happens to be a bats**t crazy speech scientist ;-)). I’ve just never bought the notion that the measure of “success” for speech recognition meant that we had to be able to have human-like “conversations” with every single device we want to interact with.

    I think your statement that “…humans are still much more flexible than machines…” is right on the money. Human use of language will always be more sophisticated and flexible than a machine’s use of language.

    Why spend all the time and money required to make a machine seem more human when it is far more efficient to train humans to modify their speech to more effectively interact with machines?

  3. I agree with you. Speech recognition is not always the best user interface.

    But even when it is, it requires a systematic and rigorous approach to get great performances. The speech industry has overhyped the technology, while in the same time offering close to nothing in terms of sophisticated tools to help achieve theses performances.

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