When they spoke a little over a half a year ago, the first wave of COVID-19 was ebbing and the great reopening was just starting to pick up steam. At that time, Todd Mozer, CEO and chairman of voice technology firm Sensory, told Karen Webster that for all the pain COVID-19 has brought along with, it had also created a once-in-a-lifetime moment in terms of voice technology’s potential for expansion. Suddenly touchless systems had become a key focus for consumers who wanted to safely get back out into the world after some three months of coronavirus-related sheltering in place.
“I think people really realized that shared touch is gone or going, and I think that creates a … new type of biometric that’s needed,” Mozer said, noting that fingerprint scanning on any kind of publicly used device has become unappealing to consumers who take protecting their health with a newfound level of seriousness.
But, he also noted, the growth spurt voice technology has enjoyed in the last year was only possible because consumers have spent nearly a decade getting comfortable talking to artificial intelligence (AI) — Siri, Alexa, the Google Assistant have all become familiar part of an increased share of consumers daily routine. Familiar, and more reliable Mozer said, noting that a decade ago, voice-activated commands required using very specific grammar when addressing a machine.
By contrast, “today we can recognize 10,000 different commands,” he said. “You can say things any way you want to the machine, and as long as it is in [your] native language, it will probably work.”
The question for voice going forward, Mozer told Webster, is finding ways to insert it into more contexts so it is more able to meet consumer needs. And as of this week, it seems, Sensory is looking to make that wider distribution possible with the release of its latest product, VoiceHub — an online portal for developers to create voice control command sets for prototyping. The platform will allow users to add a natural language voice user interface (UI) to anything, with the help of more vocabulary additions, according to a press release. VoiceHub, according to Sensory, will come with integrated support for TrulyNatural, its vocabulary speech-recognition solution that runs on devices with customizable natural language understanding (NLU) capabilities.
The news from Sensory comes a little under a week after Amazon announced it will be allowing third-party access to the core artificial intelligence underpinning Alexa. This first-time offer will allow firms to build their own virtual assistants using Alexa as the kernel. The first iteration of the product, according to reports, will be focused on the auto market.
“Building an intelligent assistant is complex, time-consuming, and costly. Further, the rate of innovation and change is accelerating and assistants are always improving and getting smarter, requiring substantial ongoing investments,” the company explains in a blog post. “The Alexa Custom Assistant addresses this challenge by allowing companies to leverage Alexa’s world-class technology stack to create their own intelligent assistant without the investment, long development cycles, and resources to build it from scratch and maintain over time.”
With access to customers, firms will be able to create their own wake words and custom capabilities for their consumers to build a voice assistant that, according to Amazon, will “co-exist” with Alexa as it’s designed to work today.
The trouble, and one it appears Sensory is looking to address with its offering, is that not every firm wants to work with Amazon — mostly because they don’t want to share their customer data with Amazon or collaborate so directly with a firm they might have to compete with. The new Sensory release exists as an alternative to a frienemy collaboration with Amazon as its new VoiceHub release is a free, drag-and-drop voice UI development platform that will allow brands to quickly create custom-branded voice assistants that run on their devices whether those devices are internet-connected or not.
“Providing free access to flexible tools like VoiceHub helps to accelerate the next wave of branded voice experiences and domain-specific, customized voice assistants,” Mozer, noted. “Since releasing the VoiceHub beta in October, VUI designers around the world have used it to create hundreds of voice AI models for dozens of automotive, wearable, smart speaker and smart home products. Our new large vocabulary and NLU capabilities will unlock enhanced VUI functionality with intents and entities. This empowers designers to develop more complex and truly conversational voice interfaces with the capability of handling millions of unique phrases.”