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The future of voice first and older adults as seen in 2018 -- did it happen?

Design improvements that benefit all will benefit older adults and caregivers. Unlike niche hardware and software for seniors, basic Voice First platforms and software will change rapidly and without disruption for users – accompanied by a ‘What’s New’ weekly email and a few suggestions on new tricks to try – but the changes behind the front-facing features will make the most difference. With the 2018 lens to guide the market today, here are a few ways the user experience and thus the ecosystem should have ratcheted upwards:

Natural language and especially AI will improve – no upgrade required. Given the hype about AI and corresponding investment to hire talent and build capability, it is likely that Version 2.0 of Voice First offerings will be more powerful than today’s “I’m not sure how to help with that” variants. Market acceleration – whether it is for self-driving vehicles or new forms of employee-less retail – is producing improvements faster than consumers can absorb them. And because AI improvements are cloud-based, users will not have to update to benefit from advances and new features.

Context will be retained across devices to enable ‘conversation’. In this new market year of Voice First technology, information about the user has been responded to in rudimentary ways and with little or no memory of how the dialogue began. Combinations like “What is the weather tomorrow in Boston” and a follow-on “Will it rain the next day?” bump into a natural language processing barrier – what place does ‘next day’ refer to? Expect improvement in ability to retain context – and even situation-specific responses like “Are you okay?” and “Who should be contacted?” when someone says, either at home or out and about: “I’ve fallen and can’t get up” or “I am in pain.”

Profiles will link to status and frailty to make the conversation relevant. User profiles today are at a version one level of evolution – your name, your voice, your previous shopping or online search queries. Moving forward, profiles are likely to become more robust, linking across environments like health and travel records and preferences that extend beyond “Would you like to book the trip?” to a deeper examination of preferences that can launch a follow-on set of questions. For those who are low vision or cannot use their hands, the next few spoken statements might ask about interest in audio turn-by-turn assistance or car services that accommodate wheelchairs.

The Virtual Concierge construct will be commonplace. In the senior living community, early adopters have seen how useful a voice-enabled concierge can be – for making dinner reservations, requesting a seat at an outing, or participating in an activity. But a Virtual Concierge helps any who asks a question, with recommendations for restaurants, reservations, and travel arrangements. In the next iteration, the Virtual Concierge will explain its reasoning about why this and not that – in the same way Maps software shows alternative routes that were chosen because they are 2 minutes shorter.

The Voice First personal health coach will be wise. With more context, personalization and related processes, Voice First personas will be capable of giving advice, knowledgeable about the individual and also aware of what’s happening outside – like knowing there is a snow storm or when the next bus is arriving.

Voice First follows you outside the home – in car, portable and with your identity. Cloud-based software like Amazon, Facebook or Google have trained us over many years to expect to be recognized across all the devices we use. So too, does the cloud software in Voice First technology enable us to take our profile-based preferences into the car and on the road, climbing into our Ford and asking to play the drive time favorite.

 

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