Grandma is a techie

Since 1946, one generation has been said to remodel society as it has passed through it – the baby boom generation. This was the first generation in the western world to grow up with television and since then it has witnessed many great technological achievements such as the moon landing, the internet revolution, new mobile technology and now the launch of intelligent consumer devices such as smart-TVs and talking fridges. Steve Jobs, founder of Apple and a baby boomer himself has become a symbol of this ultra-techie generation. The question is, are consumer electronics ready to offer what these demanding boomers are expecting?

The baby boom generation is the popular name of people born between the years 1946 and 1965 mainly in Europe and in North-America according to the U.S. Census Bureau. It is a generation widely associated with privilege as they grew up in a post war era of increased affluence. The boomers are said to be the fittest, the most active and the wealthiest generation of their time and they tend to perceive themselves as a special group.

From Rolling Stones to Beatles, from hippies to mods, from Mac to PC, there is little questioning that this special generation has put its stamp on music, fashion and technology. When it comes to the latter the boomers have driven amazing tech changes; TVs that have gone from small black & white boxes to huge home theaters; ghetto blasters gone to iPods; the proliferation of personal computers and rise of the Internet and social media; bulky mobile phones that have become sleek, small mini infotainment centers; and VHS gone to DVD to TiVo to Netflix. This is a generation that loves innovation and is good at it. They are comfortable using technology because they’ve used it in the workplace and will continue using it after retirement. Moreover, the baby boomers’ free-spending ways make them a much loved target for marketers and sales professionals.

With all this in mind it is easy to see that the emerging market of intelligent consumer devices have a big target group, as consumer devices combined with voice activation and natural language interaction (NLI) technology might just be the new big thing that the boomers will embrace. After all they have been part of developing it!
Smart-TVs that you can give commands to are already on the market and the same with game consoles like Nintendo and Playstation. Sat navs for cars are also being equipped with voice recognition and NLI technology.

However, consumer electronics have a way to go before they will be brilliant at recognizing all sort of languages, dialects, slang, and not to mention the range in variation of how to ask one single question. Today’s voice recognition technology only responds to limited pre-coded commands so as a user you will have to know exactly what to say and how to say it to your Smart-TV for it to react.

To really sway the boomers off their feet you have to add NLI technology to the devices so that you will be able to communicate in a natural way to your gadgets – then we’re, literally, talking. What NLI does is to bring intelligence to voice commands and expand the knowledge of the device. There will be few restrictions as to how you ask your questions and devices will understand both your language and dialect and even slang expressions as long as they are built into the solution.

There are signs that the eldest of the baby boomers are already taking to this technology – for example Nintendo’s Wii, a video game designed for the mass market, has caught on with seniors in the United States who are using simulations like bowling for diversion and low-impact exercise, enabled by voice and gesture activation.

Also, a study by digital technology trends watcher comScore found that the age composition of audiences using tablets are 28 percent more likely to be in the 65 years and older segment and 27 percent less likely to be age 18 to 24, just underlining the fact that the boomers are not afraid of new technologies despite, as many would think, their age.

Thinking about it, John Lennon, a great influence on the baby boomers, would have been 76 this year and I like to think he would have loved to have a smart-TV at his bed-in demonstration back then. Imagine – no remote control, just the voice of the people.

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