The Future of Conversing with Technology

The Future of Conversing with Technology: Churchill Club Open Forum. Aug 2012. Palo Alto, California.

If you have ever wondered what computers might be like in the future and how we might interact with them, then read my notes from tonight’s Churchill Club open forum: The future of Conversing with Technology. A large crowd turned out to hear candid perspectives and insights from a diverse and lively group of visionary experts including Apple co founder Steve Wozniak and panel leader, Quentin Hardy, Deputy Technology Editor, The New York Times

Quentin posed several questions to the panel: What does it mean when we have a greater sense of intimacy with our machines? What shape will the industry look like as a result of voice – Nuance has taken the path of being the provider to many, Apple the provider of task fulfilling devices – Where will voice take us in the future?

Sheryl Connelly: Global Trends and Futuring, Ford Motor Company
Voice interfaces have the advantage of not having to adapt to the way we converse with natural dialog, this creates an opportunity for progress. Progress Ford call simplexity – it is how consumers will engage with information through voice technology at Ford.

“Using voice changes how you interact with your connected devices including the car.” From changing the temperature, to the radio station, voice becomes a means to a perpetual connection, through Bluetooth. It is a hands free and heavily amplified experience designed to overcome external noise.

“Young people don’t want a car as a status symbol, they want a productivity vehicle. Today there is market demand for the consumer to have connectivity in the car seamlessly. With the average Beijing commute time at 5 hours, having a device car that helps people be productive is key.”

Ron Kaplan: Senior Director and Distinguished Scientist, Nuance
Began his career as an engineer at Xerox Parc where he thought about how to create the illusion of simplicity for ordinary people from a really complex set of offerings. Parc went down two paths toward answering this question, the GUI and the CUI

The conversation user interface (CUI) aspired to use ordinary language to perform the actions people wanted to achieve. “This is using language like you would talk with a friend. The CUI understands what you want, when you say it, without saying everything. Perfection is not required, you just need to be comfortable getting the effect in a natural way, understanding 80% of what is said is fine. That’s about as much understanding as some conversations I have with my wife and the trash still gets put out on time.”

Steve Wozniak: Co-founder, Apple Computer
Today computers can engage the senses of touch, hearing and speech. Computers should save us from thinking, that is the model for voice interaction in the future. Speech alone has great possibilities because it is really robust, you can say things wrongly, say things that don’t make sense, but you can still understand one another. You can say things a lot of ways you can be understood and this is the way of the future. Engaging the senses, our devices must watch our face and know what we are thinking from our expression. In the long term, smell becomes important. We need to create our new best friend in our pocket.

Dan Miller: Senior Analyst and Founder, Opus Research
Security becomes interesting as you are carrying so much information on your device. Voice biometrics lets your unique voice become the thing that secures the device you are speaking to. A natural user interface way to wake up the machine using your voice allows only you to use the device. Voice is perfect for this. He would like a universal communicator to let him speak to his TV and thermostat. There are so many complicated home devices we don’t know how to use and the complexity undermines their utility.


So, wonder no more what computers might be like in the future and how we might interact with them. As Morgan Freeman and Martin Scorsese discovered in their commercials for Siri – it’s time to put down the mouse, pick up the microphone and learn to talk “proppa” to the “best friend in your pocket”. The question is, will it recognize your voice the next time you wake up with a cold? The Churchill Club open forum: the future of conversing with technology – nicely done.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *