In a recent release Gartner predicted its top ten disruptive technologies for 2012. Amongst the expected and rather predictable media tablets, app stores and cloud computing, Gartner says that icons, menus and pointers will be replaced by mobile-centric interfaces such as gesture, voice and search.
But voice isn’t everything. For it to be a successful method of interaction, voice needs an underlying intelligence.
Automated Speech Recognition (ASR) analyzes voice patterns to match it with a statistically likely corresponding word. It has been available as a technology for many years and we’ve all tried using speech as the input method for word processing documents, maybe as voice activation in our cars or gone through simple voice commands on automated telephone systems. But ASR can only transcribe words; it has no innate intelligence or understanding of what the word means, let alone a phrase or complex sentence.
Natural Language Interaction (NLI) provides the missing link between a user telling an application or service what it wants, and the application or service understanding the command. It combines elements of Artificial Intelligence with other natural language technologies to deliver the perception that the user is understood by the computer or mobile device that they are talking to.
To derive the meaning of words and sentences, NLI uses language and domain specific language libraries to understand requests. In addition to this, NLI has Natural Language Processing (NLP) and Analysis (NLA) capabilities to reason requests and act accordingly, providing advanced dialogue management that can be tightly controlled. Personality is also an essential part of natural conversations; it improves a user’s perception of intelligence and their ability to engage with the voice interface.
However, the requirements for the success of voice as a disruptive technology don’t stop there, not unless we’re all going to speak American English. An application only available in English, French and German is limiting if you’re an organization planning on world domination. Even if you were only planning on conquering Spain, your voice interface would need to understand Spanish, Catalan and Basque to be truly embraced by a nation. So the ability for NLI to work effectively across multiple languages is a must!
As a Swedish company, Artificial Solutions is no stranger to disruptive technologies; Linux, Skype, MySQL and Spotify all have their roots in the Nordics. Even Siri has Nordic connections with its co-founder, Norwegian Dag Kittlaus. But although Siri and Apple have put natural language on the map, Siri is still missing several key points including platform independence, the ability to enable business users to develop their own virtual assistants and foreign language capability, to be able to seriously impact on other technologies just yet, leaving the door open for yet another Nordic company to pick up the mantle.
Headquartered in Sweden, Artificial Solutions is already altering expectations of how users interact with technology with its patented NLI technology called Teneo that works across different platforms, devices and languages. With a history of revolutionizing online customer service, its latest line of virtual assistants for mobile is set to disrupt the way we interact not just with the iPhone, but mobile computing across the board.
My colleagues at our Stockholm head office tell me that the Nordic’s penchant being serial creators of disruptive technologies has a lot to do with long cold winter nights when they have nothing better to do than exchange ideas. However, the World Economic Forum, which places Sweden at the top of its ICT rankings with three other Nordic countries in the top ten, has other ideas.
In the World Economic Forum 2011 report on ICT it says: “The Nordic countries are still among the most successful in the world in fully integrating new technologies in their competitiveness strategies and using them as a crucial lever for long-term growth. In particular, they all display a very innovation-friendly environment, with transparent and conducive regulations and top-class educational and research systems working closely with the industry, together with a strong innovation culture society-wise. Moreover, a consistent focus on innovation and ICT diffusion in the government agenda over the years has resulted in remarkably high ICT penetration rates and in the emergence of global players in high-tech and innovative products.”
Although on second thoughts if you take the phrase “innovation-friendly environment”, perhaps the guys in the office were right first time. Roll on winter and more Nordic disruption!