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Our Ultamite Guide to the Voice Search Revolution So Far..


A history of Voice Search and Voice Search Optimisation

To the computer-literate cognoscenti, Voice Search is the future.  Everyone from Apple, Samsung and Microsoft – to app developers everywhere – are investing in advancing the role it plays in our everyday lives.  We examine the rapid evolution of this exciting feature of IT communications – noting how integrating Voice Search can increasingly improve your business’s SEO rankings.

Google Voice search

What is Voice Search?

Also known as ‘voice-enabled search’, Voice Search allows users to use voice commands to search the Internet (or portable devices). It includes open-domain keyword query on any information on the internet – via systems including Siri, Cortana, Google Voice Search, Google Now, Alexa, and Amazon Echo. Such voice-based dialog systems are interactive so they’re also called open-domain question answering systems.

Audible Evolution: from speech recognition to voice search

Which landmark technical developments in past decades made it possible for people to control devices using their voices?

1950s/60s – Baby Talk: In 1952 Bell Laboratories designed the ‘Audrey’ system, which recognized digits spoken by a single voice. A decade on, IBM demonstrated at the 1962 World’s Fair its “Shoebox” machine, which could understand 16 words spoken in English.

These efforts were pioneering considering how primitive computers were at the time.

1970s – Speech Recognition Boom: Funding from the US Department of Defense’s ‘DARPA Speech Understanding Research (SUR)’ program (1971 – 1976) was instrumental in Carnegie Mellon’s ‘Harpy’ speech-understanding system, which could approximate the vocabulary of an average three-year-old. The first commercial speech recognition company, Threshold Technology, was also founded; and Bell Laboratories introduced a system able to interpret multiple people’s voices.

1980s – Speech Prediction: A new statistical method known as the hidden Markov model advanced voice tech by strides. HMM considered the probability of unknown sounds being words. Equipped with an expanded vocabulary, commercialised speech recognition worked its way into the business world (in the medical profession, for example). It entered the home in the form of Worlds of Wonder’s Julie doll (1987), which kids could train to respond to their voice.

1990s – Automatic Speech Recognition for The People:  In 1990, Dragon launched the first consumer speech recognition product, Dragon Dictate, for $9000. 1996 saw the advent of the first voice portal, VAL from BellSouth. This dial-in interactive voice recognition system responded with information based on what you said on the phone. Thus paving the way for all those infuriating voice-activated menus that persist to this day.

2000s: Google Shakes Up Speech Recognition: Voice commands were built into Windows Vista and Mac OS X – but not widely used. Then came the Google Voice Search app for the iPhone. It integrated speech recognition into mobile devices with processing clout from its cloud data centres – thereby devoting computing power to large-scale data analysis. In 2010, Google added ‘personalized recognition’ to Voice Search on Android phones. The software now recorded users’ voice searches to produce more accurate speech models. Voice Search was added to its Chrome browser in 2011. Apple responded with Siri. Also reliant on cloud-based processing, the voice of Apple draws on its knowledge of users to generate contextual replies. It has personality – numerous accents – and even reacts to jokes.

voice command

The Uptake of Voice Search: an analysis

In 2017 ZDNet surveyed users to learn how they interact with their devices – with questions focusing on how they use voice commands with their smartphones. Here’s our breakdown of some of the study’s most interesting findings…

  • Approximately two-thirds of people are comfortable using the home button on their phone to access Siri or Google Assistant.
  • 6% of respondents like to use voice with their personal assistant (Siri, Google Assistant, Cortana) is because “it’s fast”. In fact, speed is the primary reason people use voice commands on smartphones.
  • 51% believed their personal assistant understands them well or very well.
  • In public areas (like restaurants, at the gym, in public restrooms, or a theatre) those under 24 use voice commands more than other age groups.
  • High-income users (earning over $100K) are more than twice as likely to use voice commands in public.
  • 9% of women used spoken commands to text compared with 54.6% of men. But 47.5% of men used speech commands to play music versus 32% for women.

Digital Assistants: The agents of voice search

MindMeld’s study of American smartphone users found that 60% of users had only begun using Voice Search within the past year; 41% within the past 6 months. It’s a rapidly expanding market. Why? Because Digital Assistants carry out natural language queries, explaining their rise to prominence in our everyday lives.

Indeed, the names of the best-known digital assistants – Siri (Apple); Cortana (Microsoft); Google Now and Google Assistant; Alexa (Amazon) – from the major technology companies are now established tech jargon. Both the iOS and Android app stores are bursting with voice-controlled AIs.

Google Assistant takes Google’s voice search and natural language capabilities to the next level – while allowing users to carry out everyday tasks like booking cinema tickets or reserving restaurant tables. Google Home – the firm’s smart home hub rival to the Amazon Echo – comes with Assistant built in. It will give users access to Google’s powerful search capabilities in answering their questions as well as linking together smart devices all over their home.

The Future of Voice Search

Research indicates that smartphone users want voice commands to give more direct answers – and integrate more with apps. So we’ll be seeing plenty more of this talk-out-loud tech revolution. The explosion of voice recognition apps is just the start.

These apps already let you control your PC by voice or convert voice to text. They support multiple languages, offer assorted speaker voices to choose from, and integrate into every part of your mobile devices. The quality of speech recognition will also improve. Sensory’s Trulyhandsfree Voice Control strains to understand you – even amid noisy environments.

As people become more comfortable talking to their gadgets, speech recognition technology will probably extend to other devices.

The implications of Google Home’s inter-connected, voice-activated/controlled living space? You’ll be able to do everything – from managing your music playlists to ordering your shopping to setting the temperature in your bedroom – all via colloquial voice commands. As well as have the internet answer all those pressing questions in real time.

Find out more about our voice search optimisation here

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