Voice-Activated Tech: Disruptor or Science Fiction?

Posted by Gaby Isturiz on Mar 14, 2016 12:23:26 PM


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When we think of the mobile revolution that’s under way right now, our minds typically go to smartphones, apps, and then perhaps tablets and wearables. That’s to say that we typically focus on mobile devices when considering innovation in mobility. We think about the size and design of the device - will it be large or small? We consider the quality of the camera and perhaps the flashy features that will be contained in the latest update. In our discussions about mobility, we often encourage you to go beyond the app. However, it is likely that the most disruptive aspect of mobility is not top of mind when you think about technology advancement. Therefore, in this post, we’re going to encourage you to go beyond the device. After all, the greatest innovation happening in mobility right now does not lie in mobile device development, but rather, with voice technology.

Yesterday’s Science Fiction is Today’s Reality

Think of your all-time favorite sci-fi, futuristic, or space-age movies or tv shows. For many of us, the Jetsons, Star Trek, and/or Back to the Future represented a technology era that would exist in a far off time, or perhaps distant land. What may or may not be surprising is that many classic gadgets or inventions featured in our big and small screen favorites have already come to fruition. A recent Buzzfeed article details some of the real-time technologies dreamt up, once upon a time, in pop culture:

  • Star Trek Replicator -> 3D Printer
  • 2001 A Space Odyssey Phone Booth -> Video Calling
  • Pretty In Pink Computer -> Instant Messaging
  • Minority Report’s Heads Up Displays -> Air Touch Technology

While it is entertaining to take a look through the list, film by film, technology by technology, it’s almost startling how our fiction favorites have so accurately predicted today’s technology trends: wearables, wireless devices, video calling, and of course, voice activated technology. In fact, several sci-fi films feature voice and speech recognition, such as Star Trek’s Ship’s Computer or Star Wars’ R2D2.

Why Voice Activated Technology is the True Disruptor of this Era

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The most significant technology advancement taking hold right now is voice-activated technology, that utilizes artificial intelligence (AI) to record information, answer questions, and carry out tasks. Of course you are familiar with Siri and Cortana, which launched a few years ago on Apple and Microsoft smartphones, but you might not be aware of how this technology is becoming mainstream in our daily lives, allowing us to achieve greater mobility. In a recent article published on LinkedIn, Karen Webster said “Voice interfaces are powerful enablers of technology because research shows that people interact with and respond to voice technologies, in the same way that they do humans in any other social situation. It’s why great care is taken with selecting not just the gender of the voice – but its pitch and tone, too.”

One example is the rise of Alexa, the likeness behind the Amazon Echo. The voice-activated device powered by Amazon AI is changing the way that consumers access news, information, control utilities in their homes, and most of all, how they buy. Interestingly, Alexa is going beyond the Amazon Echo device - showing up in various settings, such as car dashboards, which are increasingly moving toward an “app-based” experience, according to Webster.

Another indication that we are about to feel the power of voice technology is the significant improvement underway in it. According to a recent article in TechCrunch, “It used to be that voice recognition always fell short of our expectations, but there have been some recent major technology breakthroughs that have cracked the code on speech recognition. In the past 18 months, commercial speech recognition technologies have seen a dramatic 30 percent improvement. To put that into perspective, that’s a bigger gain in performance than we’ve seen in the past 15 years combined. These improvements are in part being driven by deep learning approaches combined with massive data sets.”


How Voice Technology will Shape the Future of Legal

If you think about it, attorneys have been using voice technology for quite some time. The dictaphone of previous decades gave way to digital dictation devices and software for speech recognition. Although these have been great advances in legal and technology in general, they lack convenience and usability for the mobile legal professional of today’s world.

Siri “Apple’s voice intelligent assistant” and other similar technologies are streamlining something that used to be complex - talking to a machine, into a virtual assistant connected to our smartphones, improving our daily professional and personal lives. And not only is Siri  making waves in voice-assisted technology, but we have Google Now for Android devices, Cortana for Windows, Amazon Echo and most recently Facebook “M” (a virtual assistant with a real human touch).

Now, let’s bring all this to reality. Smartwatches, such as the Apple Watch, are one of the most innovative implementations of both wearable and voice assisted technologies that can immediately make an impact on an attorney's performance. Attorneys’ daily tasks, such as timekeeping, quick text messages, paying for goods with Apple Pay, and getting directions, all from the convenience of the attorney’s wrist, is showing to increase productivity.

Timekeeping, a task that most attorneys dread and procrastinate through the end of the month, can be amazingly achieved from the convenience of the attorney’s wrist with voice commands only. Apps such as iTimeKeep for the Apple Watch, the first-of-its-kind legal timekeeping app for a smartwatch, are starting to gain momentum as attorneys get more acclimated to the new technologies. However, we expect voice-powered AI to assume a prominent role in attorneys’ future technology arsenals.

For attorneys and the legal profession, voice assisted technology and virtual assistance is not science fiction anymore, but the beginning of a new era in which technology is maximized in order to achieve increased productivity, efficiency, and convenience as well.

While some fear that AI technology will replace human jobs, there are professional service roles, such as attorney council, for example, that will always require human analysis. Instead, AI will empower attorneys to work efficiently, strategically, and at the highest level of effectiveness.

How do you see voice-powered AI fitting into your firm’s environment? Share your comments below.

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Topics: Mobility, Voice-Activated Technology