Voice interface hype

Despite all the buzz surrounding smart home assistants such as Google Home, Amazon Lexa and Apple Siri, I still think the expectations with regards to voice interfaces should be scaled back. This Venturebeat article has some nice background reading. For instance, we’ve had voice-to-text for decades now and still almost nobody uses it. Who do you know that dictates his message? And if you know someone, is he/she the odd one out or one of many? While a few decades ago you could still blame the inferior technology for the low adoption rate, nowadays speech recognition has become so good that that’s no longer valid. And still almost nobody regularly uses a voice interface. And to be honest, I don’t think it will ever be really successful. And there is a very simple reason for that. When interacting with information systems users are mostly in a situation where talking is not very handy. They are in company of others that they don’t want to disturb, or they don’t want eavesdroppers, or they’re in a noisy surrounding (public spaces), or they simply want to take some time to order their thoughts before blurting them out. If you think about it there are actually not many situations where users would feel comfortable talking out loud to a computer.

Just as author Neal Stephenson had to point out in his insightful 1999 book “In the Beginning was the Command Line”, don’t just throw away old interface paradigms when a new one comes along. You might misunderstand what made the original paradigm so successful. The same goes for the envisioned switch from text to voice interfaces. To paraphrase an old saying, “A wise man once said….nothing…..but typed it in”.