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Strategic insights
Computing by Voice

Written by on June 23, 2005

Voice and speech commands are getting more and more powerful, and I am quite excited about the future possibilities. But, many companies who build voice recognition software do not consider the effect this will have on how we work with computers.

There is a huge difference between what you do, when you do something yourself vs. when you tell somebody else to do the same job. When you do something yourself, you are in charge, you have the responsibility and you do everything. When you tell somebody else to do it, you delegate the job, shifting the responsibility and the work to this person.

It is essentially the same when you compare computing by keyboard/mouse vs. computing by voice. When you do something with your keyboard and mouse, it is comparable to doing it yourself. You have to move the mouse, activate menus and buttons, move windows and type in command or information. You have to do all the work.

When you issue a voice command, you expect the computer to take care of the work. You tell it to open this, print this, search for that, schedule a meeting etc. You delegate.

This is a huge shift in how we use computers.

Existing software

I have tried several different voice activation programs, and none of them consider this. Instead they force you to give voice commands with same amount of detailed as if you where using your mouse - meaning you have tell every single step:

  • open folder "my documents", open folder "budgets", open "bugetxxx.xls", print, close program, close window, close window.

This is a highly inefficient way to work.

Instead computing by voice is about delegating. You do not want to tell it every single step; instead you want to tell it what it is you want - and then have the computer carry out how to do it.

  • Print "budgetxxx"

What about situations where you do not have access to a keyboard and mouse - like when you are driving or using a web-kiosk. Is it still important? Yes, it is.

Consider a mobile phone. Some of them have built in voice activation. You can have your phone call a person just by saying "call Thomas". This is delegation. You are not asking it to: open address book, find Thomas, insert number, and dial the number. You asked it to do something, not how to do it.

This is the fundamental change that computing by voice introduces. We move from doing to delegating. We move from focusing on how to do something, to what result we want.

We, as Information Architects have to embrace this, and ensure that computing by voice is not just functionality, but something that is actually useful.

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Thomas Baekdal

Thomas Baekdal

Founder of Baekdal, author, writer, strategic consultant, and new media advocate.

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