Is Speech Recognition the Future of the User Interface?

By | Jan 22, 2013

Google has released a new Chrome beta - Chrome 25 - which includes native voice recognition support. Microsoft included similar support in legacy systems of Windows, and the search giant has previously made attempts to deploy speech control on PCs, but was largely eclipsed by public use of mobile devices and speech recognition applications such as Siri. Meanwhile, a host of companies are trying their hand at gesture recognition in hopes of finding a new way for users to interact with technology; these forays into speech and signal may come at an opportune time, as big companies and startups alike try to create a natural user interface (NUI) that actually lives up to the name.

Can You Repeat That?

According to a January 15th article at Newsfactor, Google Chrome 25 beta is now available for download for Windows, Mac, and Linux operating systems. This new version includes background security features that automatically shut off extensions added by third party programs without proper user acknowledgment. More importantly, it showcases a robust voice recognition system that Google believes will let users "talk apps into doing all sorts of things."

As Glen Shires, a software engineer at Google, points out, "there's so much more you can do with voice commands," including dictating emails, controlling corporate presentations, or accessing secure applications. Greg Sterling of Sterling Market Intelligence, says this is part of a "long-term Google vision for Star Trek-like voice control of the PC," but wonders - will anyone actually use it?

Thumbs Up

Gesture recognition companies like PointGrab are also trying to capitalize on the emerging NUI market. Users are tired of stilted interfaces that force unnatural actions, and there's an emerging desire for technology that responds intuitively. IDG reports that the Israeli company has been hard at work showcasing its iOS and TV set gesture recognition products at the recent consumer electronics show (CES), and to great effect. But the IDG roundup of gesture technology shows a potential problem: there are no standard gestures, and products from PointGrab, Leap Motion, Elliptic Labs and Spicebox all require users to learn a different "vocabulary."

Just like speech recognition, however, these technologies have come a long way from the video gaming systems of the 1990s, and evolved to a point where few words are missed or gestures misinterpreted.

The IT Link

Although NUIs will find their first home among consumers, with Kinect video games and Siri-enabled iPhones, there's a great deal of potential here for midsize IT. Instead of continually typing documents and emails and eternally clicking on a mouse, the combination of robust voice and gesture recognition could let admins use their computer or tablet as an extension of themselves, rather than being tied to it like a technological weight.

For the moment, both Google's new effort and the slate of motion recognition products available fall into the "interesting but untested" category, though Google has released a spiffy demo video of its new speech recognition update. But it doesn't take long for these kinds of technologies to reach critical mass; cloud-based applications like Gmail were harbingers of that technology's recent upswing, and midsize IT would be well advised to keep an eye on any NUI efforts. A clear word, a quick gesture, the right PR, and both of these technologies could easily become IT must-haves.

This post was written as part of the IBM for Midsize Business program, which provides midsize businesses with the tools, expertise and solutions they need to become engines of a smarter planet. Like us on Facebook. Follow us on Twitter.

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