Voice control is becoming more and more common in a growing number of products. At the same time, more and more users are using it. And the wider use of voice control can raise questions that were not thought of before. Is voice just another piece of data that everyone can control? What are the risks of giving up your voice? What can voice be used for? Is this still a dilemma for the distant future, or could it soon become an everyday problem? We spoke to John Stine, Managing Director of the Open Voice Network.
Voice control is becoming an available feature in more and more products. Which products are currently the most widely used?
By far, the most used voice device is the smartphone – followed by the automobile. Last year there were roughly 211.5 million active voice assistants on smartphones in the United States, and 127 million active voice assistants in US automobiles. The third highest adoption was not the smart speaker, but smart home systems – 123.8 million that were voice activated. Both were significantly higher than the number of active US smart speakers (88.5 million) In the home, consumers are already using speech recognition to activate and change channels on television sets; soon, they’ll be using voice to activate everything from coffee makers to ovens and washing machines. And appliances will talk back, as well – letting you know when the coffee is ready, thank you!
How is the feature growing in popularity? Do you foresee buttons becoming “redundant” in the foreseeable future?
Screens and keyboards won’t go away – but yes, the confusing and complex remote control devices for televisions and other home devices will fade away. Owner’s manuals that describe what to do and how to do it will be replaced by devices that – through voice – teach you proper and efficient use. And, yes, the keyboard – a remnant from the typewriter of the 19th century – will be used less and less. Especially as commerce and friendship crosses borders and languages, especially as we wish to include those with less education and those without sight. We truly are entering the post-type, post-tap, post-swipe era.
„We truly are entering the post-type, post-tap, post-swipe era.”
What commercial significance might this trend have?
A voice interface – one that immediately recognizes dozens of languages – will be a requirement of every digital product. And that’s in a world in which all homes, environments, transport, entertainment, will be digital or digitally-managed.
Voice is personal data and personal data is a sensitive area. Is voice the data itself or the data is what we say? What can be done with someone’s voice?
Voice may be the single richest source of personally-identifiable data. Your voice is a biometric identifier – your voiceprint can identify you to some 98% accuracy. Your voice data can also be used as a biomarker – to identify leading diagnostic indicators of mental and physical ailments. Recent research shows that voice data can be used for early diagnosis of respiratory diseases (including COVID), Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, and schizophrenia. Your voice data – tone, word choice, dialect – can also be used, through artificial intelligence, to infer gender, height, weight, age, educational level, region of residence. And yes, voices can be cloned – or, properly stated – synthesized. And not only to allow a automated bot to sound like you – but also to have a bot that sounds like you speak another language.
Are there examples or figures on what problems or abuses can arise from the unauthorized use of voice?
There are multiple examples of the problems or abuses that can come from unauthorized analysis of voice data, improper inferences from voice analysis, and the use of synthesized voice.
Who should protect the voice and how?
There is important and significant regulation and advice from the European Union – both in the General Data Protection Regulation and in recent publications from the European Data Protection Board.
When do you think this issue can come into focus for market players and consumers?
Now. It’s in focus for those who are paying attention.
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