How will.i.am is changing voice recognition for business
Originally posted by Cara Waters @ smh.com.au
Musician and entrepreneur will.i.am was frustrated with voice-recognition technology.
"I don't want to learn to speak like a robot to talk to a robot," he told Salesforce's Dreamforce conference last week in San Francisco. "I just want to speak." Will.i.am's startup, iam+ is addressing these concerns with its artificial intelligence-based voice assistant designed to power customer service chat bots.
I.am+’s artificial intelligence voice-recognition tool, called 'Omega', is similar to digital assistants such as Apple’s Siri and Amazon’s Alexa and, at Dreamforce, the startup launched Arc, a system that enables 'cross dominability' between apps.
"Cross dominability is not a word, we had to invent a word," will.i.am says. "We are so comfortable with awesome apps that do pretty cool things but don't do things together. They are all siloed islands and they all need to work together, especially when you are having a conversation and moving around."
The startup secured $117 million in venture-capital funding, including an $89 million investment last year led by Salesforce Ventures.
"Its a new way to engage with customers in the most natural way possible, speaking," will.i.am says.
The focus on voice represents a big shift for i.am+, which has previously created consumer technology products such as wireless headphones.
The shift to voice
Voice technology was a key focus at Dreamforce with Salesforce announcing the launch of voice-enabled technology Einstein Voice in the lead up to the conference.
Einstein Voice allows users to talk to the Salesforce platform with the aim of employees working more efficiently and connecting in new ways with customers.
Patrick Stokes, senior vice president of product management at Salesforce, says voice is changing the way businesses will operate.
“For some customers, if you are not available on that smart speaker, you are not available,” he says. “Voice is becoming one of the vital interfaces for business, just like mobility was a decade ago when it was first evolving.”
Capgemini predicted that by 2021, 40 per cent of consumers will use voice technology over apps and websites to do a range of activities, from search to shopping.
In Australia, the Telstra Small Business Intelligence Report published earlier this year found 45 per cent of customers believed voice commerce will enhance experiences with businesses in the near future.
Savvy small businesses are positioning themselves to take advantage of the move to voice.
Sydney-based Collabosaurus, which connects businesses for brand-to-brand collaborations, focused on voice when it overhauled its software earlier this year.
“We made sure to optimise our website content to allow for easy voice search as part of this rebuild,” founder Jessica Ruhfus says.
However discussion at the conference also included consideration of the implications of more widespread adoption of voice recognition and artificial intelligence, such as that spruiked by will.i.am.
Kathy Baxter, architect of ethical AI practice at Salesforce, says artificial intelligence can do "tremendous good" but has the potential to unknowingly harm individuals.
“We can’t expect AI to magically erase bias from our society, bias is baked into the systems,” she says.
One example of this, according to Richard Socher, Salesforce’s chief scientist, is a problem of gender bias in voice recognition.
While digital voice assistants like Siri and Alexa are all female the assistants are programmed to primarily recognise male voices.
“Voice recognition uses mostly male voices so we can already see that speech recognition will have slightly higher error rates for women,” he says. “Now this stuff is working, we need to think about its ethical implications.”
The reporter attended Dreamforce as a guest of Salesforce.