Star Trek’s Captain Kirk Got It Right When He Spoke To His Computer On The Starship Enterprise

April 12, 2017, 3:20 PM UTC

For anyone who’s ever seen an early episode of Star Trek, recall Captain Kirk speaking to the “computer,” even using that keyword to summon the computing power of the Starship Enterprise to answer a complex question requiring an expeditious answer. Ever since Gene Roddenberry introduced his sci-fi interpretation of the future, we’ve been chasing that dream, for as early as 1952, Bell Labs scientists introduced “Audrey,” a system that recognized spoken numeric digits.

Fast-forward from the days of Star Trek and Audrey, and researchers have turned the science fiction of a seamless voice interface into reality. Apple’s Siri, Amazon’s Alexa, Microsoft’s Cortana and Google’s voice assistant are all manifestations of decades worth of research. However, these new systems aren’t just voice recognition, but rather the intersection of a variety of powerful computing capabilities, including speech recognition, artificial intelligence (AI), knowledge base integration (the Internet), super-computing, ubiquitous connectivity and more.

Thanks to this tech confluence, today’s voice systems can understand the context of an entire conversation, even the personality of whom they are conversing with. While many associate these digital personas with home uses like “what’s the weather?” or “play a song from my playlist,” it’s worth noting that business has made more progress in voice applications in the past three years alone than in the past 30.

We are on the cusp of a revolution in terms of how we interact via our voice with business applications. How often have you been in a meeting and needed a data point, such as last month’s growth rate for a product line? This request requires someone to manually scroll through a spreadsheet or search for a report containing the information. This is cumbersome and complicated, even with a modern smartphone graphical user interface.

Today, the same work can be accomplished instantaneously and accurately through a voice-based digital assistant. The technology is here, and it’s transformational. Much of what we use a graphical user interface in a business context is about to give way to instant voice interaction. As the CEO of a marketing technology company, we see technology like Amazon’s Alexa in every marketing meeting, playing the role of a real-time operations resource.

Consider that voice has already made the leap into other data- sensitive industries beyond marketing, including financial services. Companies like PayPal have enabled peer-to-peer payments driven by voice with support for multiple languages.

While sticking points like user authentication and security need to be ironed out, voiceprint is a “thing” today that is being used with enterprise applications and when combined with a fingerprint authentication from your phone, can be even more secure than what we use today.

The reality is that productivity, both at home and in business, is about to undergo a profound change and our voices shall be heard.

Just to prove the point, I dictated this entire article on my iPhone. Thanks Siri!

Steve Lucas is CEO of Marketo, a California-based firm that makes marketing automation software for companies.

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