Microsoft's Chief Envisioning Officer Dave Coplin reveals the role voice control will have in our future lives, and why it's about to get a lot smarter...

future of voice control

Voice. It’s big. If you’ve been following developments over the past couple of years you’ll know that it’s the hottest topic in tech. And while your smartphone today can listen out for your dulcet tones, help you with your day-to-day jobs and solve those arguments about ‘how old that guy from that film is’, their understanding is about to get much more sophisticated.

A few weeks back, Microsoft’s Chief Envisioning Officer Dave Coplin wrote a brilliant guest column about the future of smartphones as he sees it. But before he left the Vodafone Social sanctum, we also managed to glean his thoughts about the future of voice-activated smartphone services. Read on for a quick look into tomorrow…

Talking tech

CEPIC CONGRESS LONDON 2012, Dave Coplin“When I think about how my behavior has changed since using Cortana, it’s huge,” says Dave. “For example, I’ve been watching Human Universe with Brian Cox, which is all very artily done, but I found their style annoying because rather than telling me where in the world they were, they would say ‘we’re by such-and-such river.’ But I want to know where that river is! So I just grab my phone and say ‘Hey Cortana, where is the such-and-such?’ – and then next thing I know I’m looking at a map.

“That’s great, but it’s the accessibility of voice is the interesting thing.” And by this, Dave is referring to context, and where voice is appropriate:

“It’s very natural for me to do that with my device when I’m sat in my front room watching the telly, where picking it up and typing it in would have taken my concentration away. But the weird thing about voice is that it’s contextual. I probably wouldn’t do that if I was on my train commuting into work, or at a movie with a bunch of other people around me. So it’s about choosing the right interface for the right moment.”


So what is the right interface for each moment? That’s something Microsoft are trying very hard to define…

“One of the things we’re looking at is called Multimodal Interaction,” Dave explains. “Most mobile devices today are all about touch, but I’m interested in a world where it’s about touch, plus a digital pen, plus voice and in the longer term maybe even gesture. You have all of these types of interaction that you can use, and then you can decide on which is best based on where you are and what you’re doing at that moment in time.

“I think there’ll be a slight societal shift to do with voice though. Do you remember when mobile headsets started to really take off? We went through a period where you’d be freaked out because people were walking down the street talking to themselves, until you realised that they were actually on the phone. But it’s become a bit more acceptable now to sit on your own ‘talking to yourself’ in public.

Windows 10 voice control

“So the usage of the interface needs to be contextual to what you’re doing, but what will change is we’ll just become a lot better at choosing the right form of interaction at the right time.”

Crucially, Dave thinks Microsoft is primed to help people find the right device at the right time because it’s one of the few companies in the world that makes software and hardware while also wading heavily into the world of research and development:

“The thing that makes Microsoft uniquely placed is that we really get it…”

“If we at Microsoft didn’t have all the research into machine learning that we do, if we didn’t understand productivity in the way we do, if we didn’t have access to the device and the operating system in the way that we do, we couldn’t start to build these cohesive experiences and solutions.

“So the thing that makes Microsoft uniquely placed is that we really get it: we get all of this stuff – we know what we need to do in the back end to make this stuff work. We know what user interface design is all about… Those are the things that make Microsoft special. And that’s how I know that voice, along with all these other inputs, is going to be huge.”

We’ve got more coming from Dave in the coming weeks, including how the company is investing in the future of wearables in a big and unique way. Stay tuned.

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