Will Voice UI Revolutionize Computing?

If conversational UI’s replace all physical hardware interactions, would it be in people’s interest?


Computers have been through many changes since their first prototypes. Much of this has been in UX and UI, with the number of wires being reduced, Bluetooth access integrated, and actionable interfaces introduced, but the physical means of control is still the same. However, M.G. Siegler, GV's (former Google Ventures) partner believes that soon, no physical contact will be required to control your devices as AI-powered voice command systems will replace it.

With the rise of mobile devices, voice control systems are becoming increasingly popular, but to what degree? Futurists and some tech developers believe that soon, voice control will be the next paradigm of computing. Apple's Siri was the first to bring voice recognition mainstream, with Google Assistant, Microsoft's Cortana, and Amazon's Alexa shortly following. Today, voice-command platforms are mainly used on smartphones and home assistant devices, making it more convenient and time-efficient to deal with daily tasks, like checking the weather or ordering a taxi. Siegler believes the technology that is currently available isn't ready to replace all physical interaction with a device, but insists that it's the right time to start thinking about the capabilities of voice UI and consider it as the future of computing.

In order to fully implement 'conversational interfaces' to our daily lives, though, there must be a demand. According to Timothy Tuttle from MindMeld, in 2015 alone, voice search requests on virtual assistants like GoogleNow, Cortana, and Siri jumped from the statistical zero to 10% of overall searches globally, which comes to 50 billion requests per month. However, using voice search to order a pizza is a different prospect from controlling an entire computer system.

It's likely that the voice interface will continue growing in popularity, however, there are doubts that it's going to revolutionize computing. UI has a sensitive structure and the conversational form can work for one device or platform whilst being unnecessary on others. There is a large cognitive benefit to being able to touch and see, plus, considering that 65% of the global population are visual learners, it would be hard to take that experience from them. Requests, dictation, and control over connected home appliances is changing lives for the better, but using voice control to perform the entire range of tasks can create a problem.

Increased connectivity and reliance on data collected from users has already caused concerns around cyber security and privacy. Voice recognition and virtual assistants require hardware producers to be sensitive to a wide range of factors, including the purposes of sound use, who is communicating with the device, how this data is stored and for how long it is retained, and how well technology is aligned to legal and regulatory requirements.

AI-powered voice control systems need to be able to learn from data, and unlike traditional interfaces, devices that are responsive to sound must be constantly 'listening'. There is no problem if communication with the device doesn't contain any sensitive information, but if this is used for business operations, financial transactions and other complex tasks, safety of it needs to be clear. Considering that even with traditional interfaces there is still room for cyber attacks and malfunction, it's unlikely that the entire physical computer operation will be replaced with voice-control.

The complexity of introducing relevant regulations and privacy concerns may create a barrier for public acceptance as even though a voice-controlled device may act in a user’s interest, it may act on their behalf too. If virtual assistance evolves to control entire systems any mistake made by the AI would have a direct impact on the individual or business, not the computer system. So the question is: Even if one day, voice control is capable of handling the entire range of tasks, would it be safe to do so?

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