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Technology Futures

Commentaries on Directions That Will Impact the Future of Technology

Thoughts on Natural Language Input


Anyone who has seen a recent Apple ad or a newsclip on its new iPhone 4S, knows that Apple is pushing voice input as a revolutionary way, not only to input commands, but also to get answers to queries.  I’ve not had a chance to try out the 4S, but I own an Android phone and an Android tablet, both of which support voice input which works pretty well.  If you are interested in a comparison between Apple’s “Siri” and Android’s “Voice Actions,” take a look at the excellent PC World article on this subject at http://www.pcworld.com/article/242198/apples_siri_vs_androids_voice_actions_feature_showdown.html.

All of this current technology is very nice, but the promise of what is to come in natural language processing is what gets my adrenaline pumping.  (OK, so I sometimes exaggerate.)  If you are skeptical, I recommend you see the recent Jeopardy TV shows that pitted IBM”s “Watson” parallel processing computer against the two best-ever Jeopardy contestants.  Suffice it to say that Watson was a big winner.  Not only did Watson beat the c–p out of its opponents, its answers were given in the form of synthesized speech, and it made its bets based on complex probability algorithms.

I think the day is not far away when one will be able to ask one’s phone what bets to make on the third race at Pimlico, and get a (whispered) answer with far more reliability than the typical tout sheet!

Taking off from my earlier comments about using smart pads and phones as remote controls for home entertainment, security and climate-control, the day should not be too far off when voice will replace buttons.  I can’t think of anything that would give a bigger boost to the home entertainment biz.  At the risk of being accused of being a male chauvinist pig,  a lot of women, who are terrified of controlling anything more complicated than a stand-alone TV set, will become ardent home-theater enthusiasts.  If all they have to do is say “Record Dancing with the Stars”, or “Show me a list of all the movies starring Gregory Peck available on cable this week.”, or Turn down the volume.”, or “What’s next on my Netflix queue?”, or Turn the heat up to 72 degrees.”, I’m sure you get the concept.

Philips, one of the world’s largest consumer electronic companies, used to be the leading provider of programmable remote control devices.  Not long ago, it closed down the division responsible for that product line.  Do ya think it saw the handwriting (oops voicewriting) on the wall?

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