Should we be focusing on learning how to “speak machine” or on building machines that can understand us better? While more and more people hone their coding skills daily, hoping to become fluent in machine language (and there is clearly plenty of demand for such skills) the world’s top tech companies are making huge strides in artificial intelligence and voice assistant technologies. Soon we may not have to try so hard to be understood.
You’ve almost certainly have interacted with one or more of the following voice assistants: Cortana, Siri, Alexa, or Google’s imaginatively named Assistant! You’ll have found that there are only a few things it’s quicker to say than to type or touch. Simple commands such as “Call Jeremy” or maybe even something as adventurous as “remind me to put out the recycling when I get home” work well – anything more complex and you’ll likely be offered a web search or just a slightly forlorn apology.
So how quickly will voice input become the norm? “Human language is the new user interface layer,” Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella has said. Future generations may well see typing manually as an archaic pastime, much the same way writing letters longhand is now. My nephew Leo, 7, habitually performs web searches with voice input – typically using YouTube as his search engine – and even though he is capable of typing, he practically never does.
I wonder what the implications could be in education. Research has indicated that writing with a pen or pencil produces qualitatively different outcomes than typing – what kinds of learning may happen better when a computer is interpreting and giving instant feedback? As most speech tends to be spontaneous, is there a danger that we could lose the ability for more measured, nuanced thinking if we adopt voice input as the norm? Certainly, there will be great benefits in accessibility to technology and inclusivity as voice input becomes more and more reliable.
At this stage it’s tempting to be cynical. You can have a good chuckle at TV adverts setting off X-Box consoles and Alexa inadvertently ordering dollhouses during a report on how Alexa could inadvertently order dollhouses. But the technology is advancing exponentially and voice commands getting smarter every day. For anyone interested in the future of education technology, we need to talk! As ever, you can email us, fill out a contact form, or send us a direct message on Twitter.