How Voice Technology Is Leading a Major Revolution in User Behavior

Search, commerce, news, education…are just a few big industries that will be massively affected by the combination of voice and AI.

Jeff Mignon

Jeff Mignon

posted on May 18, 2017

Voice, coupled with artificial intelligence (AI), is going to change many industries in profound ways.

In fact, "90% of human communication still happens through voice,” explains Gaurav Sharma in his post, “Voice is the new platform and the future of Search, Commerce and Payments.” “Today we are at the threshold where machine ASR will soon surpass human speech recognition.” So it’s no surprise that voice command devices are everywhere—from Apple Siri, Amazon Echo and Echo Show, Google Home, and Microsoft’s Cortana—and they will all lead “to a massive shift in user behavior,” Gaurav insists.

AI voice technology

Google voice recognition already understands about 90% of the words pronounced by humans (up from 70% in 2010), and Baidu claims to understand 95% Chinese words. And, according to a KPCB 2016 report, 65% of smartphone owners in America used voice assistants in 2015. In June 2015, Siri handled "more than 1 billion requests per week through speech."

Many industries will go through major changes as a result of the voice and AI technologies combination. The KPCB report (from Internet Trends 2016) doesn’t hesitate to call this potential change "a new paradigm in Human-Computer interaction." Let’s review four areas to understand better what is happening and/or could happen very soon to each one:

SEARCH: How devices are creating a huge spike in voice search

Fifty billion is the number of voice searches per month for Google, Siri, and Cortana combined. Today, voice search is more than 10% of all searches in Google. Forty-one percent of adults, and more than half of teenagers in America, now use voice search, according to a study conducted by Northstar Research in 2014. According to Google Trends, Google voice search queries have increased 35 times since 2008 and seven times since 2010.

On Android, 1 in 5 mobile app searches in the U.S. are also voice searches. Andrew Ng, Chief Scientist at Baidu, is convinced that by 2020, more than 50% of search will be through voice queries at Baidu. At present, more than 200 billion monthly voice searches involve dialogue/conversation.

E-COMMERCE: How voice is helping Amazon kill brands and dominate retail

Foot traffic in malls has already decreased by half between 2010 and 2013, explains marketing expert and teacher Scott Galloway in his L2 presentation, "How Amazon is Dismantling Retails." He’s convinced that voice is the last nail being hammered into the retail coffin, and Amazon is behind the hammer. Galloway’s team often noticed that, on average, it was 25% cheaper to buy a product on Amazon Echo vs. on could help accelerate consumers using the Echo device. The team then discovered that Alexa was first recommending white-labeled Amazon products when they had one in stock; if there wasn’t one, products with the best profit margin was recommended.

Voice is so convenient. “Alexa, buy batteries.” Done. No more browsing. No more basket. No more entering the credit card. Just a data-driven dialogue based on a user’s profile and data about the best profit margin for Amazon. Customer reviews? Just ask for it. Product feature? Just ask for it.

Also, voice-activated purchases mean there are no more advantages to packaging and prime shelf exposure. The customer is blind for most of the transaction because the algorithm decides the purchase experience and the best value for the customer and for Amazon. Killing brands, as Galloway says.

NEWS: How voice will transform news into a conversation

Voice search and assistant app pie chart

On the Hound app, 52% of searches belong to the news/information categories: 22% for local information and 30% for general information. Digital media expert and CUNY J-School professor Jeff Jarvis has been advocating for news to become a conversation. Voice technology, coupled with AI, will most likely make the concept more real and change the news narrative. Storytelling will be reinvented and transform news into a multichannel conversation.

Imagine the following scenario:

You to Alexa: Who is the new president of France?
Alexa: Emmanuel Macron. He is 39-years-old and has never been elected before. Would you like to hear more about him? I can send a text bio to your email.
You: Yes, please tell me more about him.
Alexa: [Reads the bio.] Would you also like to hear his first speech as President or watch a video of it? I have a video documentary about him, plus articles from The Economist and The New York Times.
You: I’d like to watch the video of his first speech as a President.

As you can see, the voice-commanded device can launch an instant query based on your question and then give answers by proposing several content formats (text, video, audio, images) and several sources. Based on your behavior profile, the AI will then learn and suggest more targeted content in the future.

Not only will voice facilitate ongoing news conversation, but it will help users get information the way they want it. In other words, storytelling will be created by individuals, and the media will need to organize the news more as a set of data that can be pushed individually, based on user queries and profile. (This is probably already in the works somewhere!)

EDUCATION: How voice will change teaching radically

Old school classroom

Classrooms have barely changed for the past three centuries. Can AI, coupled with voice-driven devices, actually change the way we teach? Probably! And why not?

Knowledge is all over the internet. Readily accessible. Voice and artificial intelligence can easily turn education into a conversation and allow students to create their own curriculums. Using a student’s location, AI can recommend, format, and customize educational content. And, if education is not easily accessible in certain parts of the world, AI can also provide it.

If you believe that we still need a human teacher, think twice. “Ecole 42”, a French engineering school that’s now in the US, has an intriguing concept: no teachers, no curriculum, just peer-to-peer learning.

Sugata Mitra, educational researcher and winner of the 2013 TED Prize, has conducted amazing research with young kids around the concept of peer-to-peer learning. He created School in the Cloud and demonstrated how kids can learn from each other with the help of a simple computer. So imagine the addition of voice and AI to that computer. For me, there’s no doubt that voice will accelerate how education will transform all over the world. What do you believe?

>> Watch His TED talk, "Build a School in the Cloud," here.

So are you ready for the voice revolution? Tell us how your industry will evolve with voice technology and AI.


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