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The Disruption of Voice – Charlie Kindel’s CEDIA 2016 Keynote


Sep 16, 2016

By Ed Wenck

Charlie Kindel summed up the progression of computing disruption in a neat graph, built like a set of stairs. Kindel – Friday keynote speaker at CEDIA 2016 and director of Alexa Smart Home for Amazon – used those stairs to represent “steps” in the increase of the number computer users brought to the machine by the stages of that disruption.

If one thinks about the pre-mouse days of computing, inputting characters was the way to command the machine. When the graphical user interface (GUI) hit, with a mouse controlling a pointer on a screen, the number of uses spiked – and suddenly. Computing was no longer something mysterious, it was available to the masses.

The next disruptions were about connectivity and portability – the sudden expansion of the internet followed by the advent of the mobile device. Mice soon yielded to touch screens. In every step, some companies were left by the wayside, while others thrived. We tend to remember the success stories, of course – Twitter and Facebook bet big on the future of mobile, and they were right in their assessments, to put it mildly.

Kindel’s convinced that the world – not just the industry of smart home integration – is poised to broadly adapt a one-letter shift in the acronym: “Graphical” will soon be replaced by “voice.”


Humans communicated by speech eons before the notion of written language.


Kindel, naturally, has a good bit of skin in this game, so he’ll be a leading evangelist for VUI as a matter of course. Still, as consumers gravitate toward the kinds of interfaces Kindel’s speaking of (and, as CEDIA’s Tech Council has predicted, integrate those interfaces with gesture), it seems pretty clear that a major shift in the way we communicate with our machines is on the horizon.

We won’t “talk” — we’ll really talk.

Kindel recounted an experience he had as a kid in school, building a rudimentary machine that allowed his classmates to vote by voice in a Presidential election. (The choices were Reagan or Mondale, which dated a fair number of us in the room.) The results? Meh to OK, according to Kindel, but he was convinced that voice control was just around the corner.

He was wrong, of course (note we just referenced “Reagan v. Mondale”), but there was irony there – humans communicated by speech eons before the notion of written language. Computer interaction flipped that timeline – typing in commands, of course, came first. Kindel’s convinced that the next “flip” is coming, though, and his company’s taking some pretty big steps to ensure that the technology they’re developing will wind up in devices that range from the obvious (intercom systems that work instantaneously no matter the mileage between stations) to whole-home control systems.

Kindel’s outline of his company’s device development was one of the most interesting part of the presentation: Amazon builds stuff by writing the press release first – and then reverse-engineering the product from the headline. As he’s said before, the mission statement regarding Alexa and her attendant gear was simple: replicate the computer from “Star Trek.”

 

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