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In 2018, Google CEO Sundar Pichai demoed google duplex assistant at the company’s developer conference. The assistant imitated realistic and nuanced human speech patterns (complete with “ums” and “ahhs”) as he made an appointment for a haircut and reserved a table at a restaurant while conversing fluently with a real person.
Though the audience erupted in enthusiastic applause at the achievement, in the Twittersphere and beyond, observers were quick to question what they were hearing.
In the end, the whole episode wasn’t very good for the PR of artificial intelligence or fancy voice technology. But that’s unfortunate because the truth of the matter is that Voice AI has enormous potential to empower consumers and bring value to companies that implement it, provided there is a clear understanding of its purpose and its limitations.
AI voice in the wild
One of the best examples is the food order.
Sky-high inflation has been driving up costs for restaurant owners, while labor shortages have left them struggling to keep up with customer demand (which has been slow to diminish mail–lockdown). Some smaller restaurants have let the phone ring, while some larger ones have even been forced to. keep the drive through customers hoping forwhich leads to frustration.
So they are increasingly turning to voice technology to pick up the slack.
It makes a lot of sense. As long as the voice technology is sophisticated enough, and you might be surprised What intelligent it is right now — having AI voice Taking an order allows employees to get on with the important work of preparing tasty food and ensuring that customers who dine in have a great experience.
In this scenario, no one is fooled: this type of voice AI tends to declare its non-human state if it isn’t already obvious. Clients are happy and service industry professionals are supported, not undermined.
Good service, not servants.
So how about this idea: Instead of each of us having our own personal humanoid? jeeves (as in the Google Duplex scenario), what if different brands and companies had their own assistants that formed a broad ecosystem of voice assistants? In this way, companies could assert their own brand identity and cultivate personal relationships with their customers without intermediaries. For their part, customers could deal with a voice AI that truly knows the goods or services the company has to offer, rather than an Alexa-style assistant trying to fumble its way.
The restaurant’s voice assistants, for example, familiarize themselves with the menu. They learn favorite combinations; they can make changes and suggestions; They learn to sell more. Why couldn’t that be replicated in the rest of hospitality, or Retail sale, or even professional services? The answer is: it could, and it is starting to happen.
Instead of thinking about creating intelligent AI servers, we should start thinking about voice assistants as functional tools that we can repurpose in this way. In the “real world,” most of us don’t have servants or envoys to do business for us, but we do have knowledgeable, personable, and efficient front-line staff. Why not replicate the systems that work instead of the outdated ones?
I think that is what we will start to do, and the experiences of brands and customers will become more vivid and fruitful because of it.
It is important to stress that this is not about replacing staff with an army of voice assistants. It’s about giving employees the time and space they need to focus on critical tasks, simplifying clunky ordering systems, and helping businesses increase sales. And it’s also about allowing us, as customers, to step away from screens and devices to order in the most natural and human way we know how: with our voices.
Zubin Irani is SoundHound’s CRO.
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