On-Demand & On-Command

voice recognition on demand

The other day, a box arrived at our house.

My seven year old daughter, Izzy, instantly became wide eyed. She had witness many such technology unboxings in the past, and never came away disappointed.

The brown Amazon box soon gave way to a long black box, which in turn gave way to a long black cylindrical tube. Izzy was perplexed. No screen and no remote was halfway towards no fun in her world. After watching me plug it in and fiddle with my iPhone for a couple of minutes, we were ready for the big reveal.

“Alexa, play Do It Again by Steely Dan”

The top of the cylinder lit up, and a second later the room filled with the smooth sounds of Citizen Steely. Izzy’s eyes got brighter. I hoped it was because of Steely Dan since I’d been dribbling the good stuff in her ears at an early age. The truth is, she’s a bit hot and cold at best when it comes to the ‘classics’, but what did get her attention was our new Amazon Echo. Talking to this bluetooth speaker shaped thing and having it fetch was pure magic. While I had her mesmerized, I struck again:

“Alexa, tell me a joke.”

“What did the zero say to the eight?” --> “Nice belt!”

Izzy doubled over in laughter and for the next half hour, she competed with her younger sister for Alexa’s attention. They extracted more clean jokes and worked their way through our music library on command. Alexa was remarkably accurate.

This isn’t meant to be a review of the Echo, but I should say it’s quite remarkable. Rather, it’s a directional sign of things to come. Siri was a great parlor trick when it first came out and it’s still useful, but voice recognition technology is moving forward quickly on multiple fronts. Whilst I imagine myself as a technology futurist, you really don’t have to be one to know that this tube, or something like it, will someday turn off our lights, set our thermostat, and queue up our favorite shows. On demand & on our command is finally ready for prime time, and it will probably reduce all that pecking away and scrolling we do on our phones. Voice recognition technology coupled with the Internet of Things will soon do our bidding. Music, video, information and almost anything else we can imaging will soon be just our own voice away. As a device carrying technologist, I’m brimming with pride.

But, will everything be along for the ride? Part of me thinks one important area might miss the train; our most personal content. I’m talking, or coarse, about our photos. A year from now, will I be able to talk to my phone, or to some other Echo type living room device, and (channeling Scotty) say:

“Computer, show me all the photos of Izzy and Lulu taken last year in San Francisco”

There’s a good chance nothing at all will happen. A very good chance.

We have gotten so very good at delivering information and impersonal content through a variety of devices, and the notion of ‘on demand & on command’ will only make things easier. Yet our own content, the stuff we make every time we snap a shutter, hasn’t advanced in quite the same way.

See for yourself. Pick up your iPhone now and ask Siri to show you photos you took last week. No dice. (To be fair, Android fares no better) For our own personal content, viewing and sharing photos usually starts with lots of tapping, scrolling and flicking until we reach gold. Lots of scrolling.

Why is that?

I think it’s because our photos aren’t tagged as well as our music and other bits of data we have at our command. As important as our photos are, we’re pretty much left to our own devices when it comes to tagging and organizing them. Some people, like me, are maniacal about tagging and organizing their photos in the cloud, but this is time consuming, and isn’t very straightforward technically. Most of the people I know just move their photos from phone to phone and leave their older photos on their computer. Without the right tags, our photos are the MP3 equivalent of an ‘Unknown Song’ in an ‘Unknown Album’ by an ‘Unknown Artist’.

Until there is a great tagging innovation, our photo libraries might get left out of the technological goodies that await when voice recognition makes its next leap forward.

That said, I’d stay tuned. I think something new is around the corner.......

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