That's the outlook of Lawrence R. Rabiner, associate director of the Center for Advanced Information Processing (CAIP) at Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, in an overview of speech processing, "The Power of Speech," in the journal Science, available Friday (Sept. 12).
"We are rapidly approaching the point where entering data to devices by voice - regardless of language or accent - will be as accurate and efficient as entering it by keypad or mouse. When this happens, another wall between humans and machines will fall. The idea of 'going to work' to get things done will change to 'getting things done' no matter where you are," said Rabiner, a Rutgers electrical and computer engineering professor, former vice president of research at AT&T Labs and co-author of four books in the fields of digital signal processing and speech processing.
Life at home will change, too, as operating the family entertainment center becomes a matter of pointing at it and saying "find me a good classical music station," Rabiner said.
He explained that new abilities to compress and transport massive amounts of computer code without using excessive network capacity will help usher in this new age of voice control. At the same time, the shrinking size of equipment will drive the move away from hand-operated controls. "There's no room for a keypad when the device you're controlling is as small as a single key. Voice control has an advantage here because it requires virtually no physical space and we always carry our voices with us," he said. For security, new speech verification technologies will be able to analyze voices and restrict use of devices to intended users only.
Rabiner said he expects to see the following voice-control scenarios evolving over the next five to 10 years:
- Telephone calls will be made by name, not number.
- Intelligent voice-controlled communications agents, essentially nonintrusive network-based robots, will place our phone calls, track down the people we want to reach and let us now whether these people want to talk to us.
- Voice-controlled agents will help us find deals on merchandise, remind us about appointments and birthdays, and control our appliances from any location.
- Virtually all devices in the home and office will be network accessible and voice controllable.
- The distinction between work life and home life will blur as we can do whatever we want from wherever we are at any time. Work will become something we do, not someplace we go.