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Hey Alexa, What’s Next for Voice Tech? Five Insights into a Voice-First World

The most common question people ask their voice tech assistant isn’t “How’s the weather?” Today, it’s “Alexa, will you marry me?”

This happens hundreds of times a week, according to Al Lindsay, Amazon’s VP of Alexa Engine Software.

With 80,000 skills and growing, marriage is maybe the one thing Alexa can’t do.

This year, the smart speaker industry will grow to be worth an estimated CAD 7 billion, and demand could potentially surpass that of smartphones.

A Canadian voice tech pioneer, Lindsay joined us at RBC Disruptors, our monthly conversation on innovation and technology, to share his insights into a voice-first world.

Here are five takeaways about the future of voice:

1. Voice tech is making smartphones look dumb

A lot of people ask, “Why do I need voice tech if I can do everything I want on my smartphone?” For Lindsay, his ah-ha moment was listening to music. “I’d say, play songs from Sting and two seconds later music would be streaming from the speaker.” No more taping on glass, navigating through apps and waiting. We used to see smartphones as the ultimate convenience. Now, voice tech has usurped them, eliminating the need to pull out your phone—and possibly get even more distracted. Voice could allow us to get back to being humans again.

2. Personality is everything

In the beginning, Lindsay and his team were focused on making a voice tech assistant that was smart and helpful—those seemed like the obvious selling points. But customers leaned into Alexa as a persona. “It turns out having fun and a sense of humour are appreciated as well,” Lindsay said. The company started adding quirks and funny responses, realizing the more natural interacting with voice tech feels, the easier people will adopt using it.

3. Voice tech is disrupting every industry

When asked about what industries voice tech is disrupting, Lindsay was definitive, “All of them.” He predicted major changes from health care to hospitality. For hospital patients, smart speakers could handle simple requests like turning on the television or adjusting the bed, saving time and labour. When people go out to dinner, they’ll use voice to order a drink, and to charge the bill to their Visa—or to the table over there, he joked.

4. Every business needs a voice strategy

As we move to a more ambient world, small and large businesses alike will need a voice strategy. Similar to deciding on brand colours and slogans, companies will need to ask: Is our voice soothing? Young and fun? More serious? Sound adds a powerful new dimension to brand identity. It also opens up new opportunities. You don’t need to have a speech team to have speech as an interface. Anything that has a computer interface, you can replace or augment with voice.

5.Voice is the great equalizer

Every interface before voice had a learning curve—it takes time to learn to type, or navigate an app. Lindsay said the distinction for voice tech is that if we can truly achieve a natural conversation experience, technology will be immediately accessible to everyone in the world with language skills.

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As Senior Vice-President, Office of the CEO, John advises the executive leadership on emerging trends in Canada’s economy, providing insights grounded in his travels across the country and around the world. His work focuses on technological change and innovation, examining how to successfully navigate the new economy so more people can thrive in the age of disruption. Prior to joining RBC, John spent nearly 25 years at the Globe and Mail, where he served as editor-in-chief, editor of Report on Business, and a foreign correspondent in New Delhi, India. He is the author of three books and has a fourth underway.