The technology research firm Gartner has long been predicting that, by 2020, the average person will have more conversations with bots than with their spouse. These bots live within our smart phones, devices that are always with us, in our pockets, and which contain unlimited information. A smart phone can give us an answer instantly, as perhaps a spouse cannot.
Voice recognition software is one of the most powerful areas of development as we see Google Home competing with Amazon’s Alexa and now Apple Home entering the virtual assistant race. We can talk to computers like never before. Voice is no longer just in smart assistants but in many of the everyday products that we use from TVs, to ovens, washing machines and even the bin.
“Globally, 43% of regular voice tech users say they love their voice assistant so much they wish it was a real person,” revealed JWT’s Future100 report. You may choke out a laugh in disbelief at that statistic but we've seen this sentiment materialise in films like Her, where the protagonist falls in love with the woman who voices his computer. As announced last year, Apple were hiring Health and Wellness software engineers with a background in psychology or counselling to help ‘people have serious conversations with Siri,’ an indication that our voice assistants are only going to become more anthropomorphic, the more technology advances.
What might the future of the virtual companion look like? In Japan, Gatebox, a holographic voice assistant, wakes you up, texts you when you’re at work and welcomes you home after a long day. It even reminds you to take an umbrella if it's raining. The assistant, named Hikari, lives within the screen and the cameras, sensors and microphones on the outside of the device allow her to be more 3D companion than faceless voice assistant. Indeed, the research and consulting firm Ovum estimates that the native digital assistant installed base, i.e. the number of devices installed, will surpass 7.5 billion active devices by 2021, which is more than one per person on the planet.
Ten years on from the launch of the first iPhone, we now have a smartphone that unlocks itself by scanning our faces. We are fed adverts on our social media feeds that correspond to the conversation we had earlier that day. Our phones, and the super computers they house, can now see and hear as well as they can read and listen. This is changing our lives completely, but it’s also transforming the way that brands can use this technology to help assist us in our everyday lives.
It is no longer the Internet of Things but rather that of Eyes and Ears.