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The secret of 21st century tech architecture: voice enabling human-machine interaction

Vishal Krishna
1st Dec 2017
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Werner Vogels, CTO of AWS, says technology will be more human-centric going forward and AI will disrupt the business environment.

Smartphone evangelists and app lovers who believed app downloads would make the world a better place would have felt out of place at AWS re:Invent. For Amazon Web Services CTO Werner Vogels stated that all these have failed to democratise information.

“The world is suffering from app fatigue. If you see the developing world, people don't use apps because it is not a natural way to communicate for them,” he said. Werner added that app-based businesses have not grown because the common people in the developing world do not know how to use multiple apps.

Werner Vogels, CTO, Amazon.com
“The future is a natural way of interaction and it is voice,” Werner said.

No wonder AWS is positioning Alexa as a platform that can enable businesses and consumers to communicate and share information better.

The AWS CTO said the future is about IT being human-centric rather than machine-centric. He added that it was how AWS was building its tools to help businesses to make it easy for their customers to interact with each other.

For example, VW, BMW and Ford are now integrating Alexa into their cars to let drivers speak to the car about the driving environment and to access information on the go rather than being directed by the system itself. In the old days, a voice-based command would be rule-based and would not understand a driver’s questions.

Little things like “how much longer for a refill and where is the nearest petrol station?” Would require the use of an app, which would distract drivers. With Alexa, the interface between humans and machines has become very interactive. This is very powerful.

“This is how we work with businesses. We give them tools after listening to them and it is a radical shift in the way we do our business,” Werner said.

The cloud is really democratic because it has ushered the arrival of an era of analytics driven by Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning. The voice enables the device to truly understand human behaviour rather than people opening manuals to understand machines. GE is today putting Alexa into refrigerators to guide users better on what is to be stocked and what can be cooked with the items in the fridge.

“All this possible because neural networks can be built on the cloud and they can be used to crunch data faster. Engineers can become nimble and make systems reliable,” Werner said.

Today, digital natives use search with voice interfaces to get the right answers to their questions. If we combine vision where the software can recognise faces, the system can become extremely powerful.

Get set for the future

Voice unlocks a lot of things with AI. Imagine driving the car to the house and the person can use the voice interface to ask the garage to open or switch on the lights even before s/he gets into the house.

Let us take the example of the International Rice Institute which has varieties of rice that can be given to poor farmers to reduce poverty. Their whole endeavour was to bring knowledge to small farmers. They initially built a digital system that they thought would make it easy for farmers to understand the rice they were growing and how much fertiliser they could use.

To their dismay, none of the farmers came to the website to gather information about this. The institute soon figured out that they needed a voice-based system with a phone interface where farmers could call in and access information about their farm. The voice interface became a success and reduced ferliliser use by 90 percent.

Amazon Web Services says its voice based platform can integrate everything. Their business service hopes to liberate employees from working in silo-ed operations.

“Devices in the conference room are a pain, that's why meetings start late. How many times do you have to type the ID, voice will remove all these challenges,” Werner said. He added that if voice is a natural way of communicating at home, you can use the same at work.

Alexa for business is a fully managed service where business can manage users; it aims to be the intelligent assistant for work. Alexa is integrated with Cisco and Polycom.

YourStory has maintained how the industry will change with digital personal assistants; these-voice based systems are real and will change the way we work and communicate with our surroundings.

Companies and business tools like Ring Central, Concur, SAP Success Factors, Splunk and Acumatica are integrated with Alexa. WeWork will be using the Echo device all around the world in conference rooms to help their companies work better.

“Integration is important. Voice is the key thing here. All the code is just business logic and the future is a managed services environment,” Werner said.

Businesses only have to write business logic; everything else will be managed by AWS.

Digital assistants will change how we work

Voice will be the first disruptor over the next decade and security will still be a key issue because data will be pulled to the public cloud. Companies will need to take encryption very seriously. Engineers must learn to secure things as customer data will be sitting in the cloud.

Werner said future business models are built on security and at AWS they help their clients “focus on this constantly”.

Nora Jones, author of Chaos Engineering, said the future of engineering is to ensure that there are systems that do not disrupt services.

“If you are a video streaming company, the service failure should not result in streaming failure. At every stage you must work towards keeping the service levels high to remain on to top. You cannot lose your customers,” she said.

Of course, the future is about enhancing experiences and everyone concurs that a digital assistant is the future.

Atul Jalan, Founder of Manthan, says: “In the future, thanks to digital data, software will know more about the individual and will predict possibilities that are accurate.” He added that data is the “future of the world”, with everyone openly sharing data with Google, Facebook and all the apps installed on their phones.

Need to ready for the AI revolution

All engineering students must prepare for this AI revolution by understanding data coming from corporations. For that, however, there needs to be a massive overhaul of industry and academia engagement.

Voice will be central to this and they should build these systems for human-machine interaction.

According to Cognizant, the global market for smart virtual personal assistants (SVPAs), or chat bots, is growing exponentially. What was valued at $113 million just two years ago, according to Transparency Market Research, is expected to reach nearly a billion by 2024.

The adoption of popular virtual assistants such as Apple Siri, Amazon Alexa, Google Home and Microsoft Cortana is rapidly approaching 100 million combined users. These offerings, however, have predominantly appeared in the consumer space for straightforward activities such as booking movie tickets, identifying restaurants, providing sports and weather updates, creating event reminders, texting and calling friends, or playing music.

In the next step, enterprises come into the picture. SVPAs could schedule meetings, follow up on work-in-progress activities, and carry out daily tasks such as filing timesheets, providing employee instruction, and more. This could lead to significant enhancements to employee collaboration, satisfaction, and ultimately significant cost savings for organisations. In Cognizant’s view, SVPAs are an enterprise disruption waiting to happen.

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