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Guided by voices: virtual assistants could work across platforms

business Updated: Jun 03, 2013 11:16 IST

The next generation of virtual assistants will work across devices, across platforms and throughout our homes.



Thanks to Apple's Siri voice-operated virtual smartphone assistant and Google's new conversational search and map apps, consumers are getting more comfortable with talking to their devices when they want to check facts or dates, or in the case of Google Glass, take a photo or upload a video. But what if consumers could ask that same virtual assistant to take care of any device or operation in their living room or even their car?

Nuance CEO Paul Ricci claims that this is the direction in which the technology is already moving and the future could arrive much sooner than we expect.

"I think we will see virtual assistants within two years that are quite robust. They'll be good at command and control of the device and they'll become refined by your usage and the preferences that you have. I also believe that within two years we will see that virtual assistants will work across platforms. So it will follow you from your tablet to your TV to your phone," he said at his first appearance at All Things D's annual tech conference this week.

Nuance is a global leader in speech recognition and contextual awareness technology. So much so that the company's technology is already the de facto standard in all vehicles that support voice commands. What's more, it is also the engine behind Siri, Apple's talkative virtual assistant.

Ricci claims that a number of companies are already investing heavily in making this level of control a reality and that there are currently two ways of achieving it, either by placing sensors with microphones throughout a user's home that can identify and react to that person's voice, or by turning the smartphone into the ultimate voice-activated remote control. "You might talk to the smartphone and the assistant will follow you around the house and into the car," he says.

In fact, the only obstacle to making total voice control a reality is background noise. Until devices can hear and understand a person's voice above the roar of traffic on a busy street, above the engine in a car and above the music or over the television in the living room, the technology is going to be limited and no doubt frustrating to users.