The pandemic altered everything about people’s lives, including how they interact with voice technology. The Smart Audio Report from NPR reveals that more people use their smart devices daily; the number of people using voice commands at least once per day increased by 6 percentage points from December 2019 to April 2020.
Before COVID-19, many workers were outside of their homes for eight hours or more. They didn’t have access to their smart devices, and they generally felt more comfortable using voice commands in private. But the shift to remote work meant more time at home and more opportunities to explore the technology.
This trend toward voice-activated tech shows no signs of stopping. More than 50% of employees would like to keep telecommuting, and about 25% want a mix of in-person and remote work, according to a study by Office Depot. As the routines people formed over the past year become firmly cemented, smart speakers and voice assistants will become mainstays of hybrid work.
How Voice Tech Can Evolve to Support Hybrid Workplaces
Voice technology has come a long way since Siri was first announced. During the pandemic, grocery stores and other retailers added voice tech and touchless payment options to self-checkout kiosks to provide safer experiences for customers. Researchers are also exploring how voice assistants can support the healthcare industry.
The future of voice technology is undoubtedly bright, but it will need to keep evolving to become a staple of the new hybrid workplace. People expect voice tech to fit naturally into existing workflows, so any obstacles or errors that dissuade adoption could spell trouble for the continuing uptake of voice-first technologies.
Here’s what will have to change as more remote workers purchase and use smart devices:
1. Algorithms need to be based on a variety of voices.
It’s clear that some voice recognition technology has been trained and programmed using perfect diction, “standard North American English,” and crystal-clear recordings. Unfortunately, these algorithms aren’t very useful in the real world.
Smart speakers and other devices need to be able to navigate ambient noise, background voices, regional dialects, international accents, imperfect pronunciations, speech impediments, and more before they can be helpful in the hybrid workplace.
Thankfully, some companies are tackling these issues directly. I recently spoke with a woman whose child had a speech disability. They had spent hours in a Google recording studio to help improve the programming of the company’s assistants. Additionally, Apple has amassed a database of nearly 30,000 audio clips of speakers stuttering. Perfect voice recognition won’t happen overnight, but accounting for different ages, voice pitches, and other idiosyncrasies should help algorithms become as accurate as possible.
2. New users need a superlative experience.
A lot hinges on first experiences. When someone turns on their smart speaker or voice assistant and asks to place a call, they expect it to go through without issue. If the tech botches that first exchange, users will be less inclined to try it again in the future. This all ties back to basic learning behaviors.
While smart speakers tend to get all the press, the adoption rate of voice tech by smartphone users remains substantially higher. For smart devices to become more useful to hybrid workers, companies will need to prioritize the “wow” factor and pull out all the stops to make a great first impression.
For instance, can the tech be integrated with laptops and computers? Can devices be remotely controlled? These are the questions workers will be asking moving forward.
3. Voice technology training will need to become more diverse and inclusive.
There are plenty of examples of algorithms taking on biases, such as Amazon’s hiring assistant favoring men and a recidivism prediction tool called COMPAS misclassifying Black defendants as more likely to commit additional crimes. These inequities demonstrate that technology as a whole needs to do better as it relates to diversity, equity, and inclusion.
In one study that looked at speech recognition tools from Amazon, Google, IBM, Apple, and Microsoft, the collective software was 16% more likely to misidentify words if the speaker was Black. This might not seem like a high percentage, but think about having to correct four out of every 25 words that you speak or type. Unless it’s addressed, this issue will prevent people from embracing voice technology.
As it did in numerous other areas, the pandemic accelerated the adoption of voice-activated technologies. With employees around the world demanding increased flexibility and safety precautions, voice tech has likely secured a permanent spot as a mainstay of the future of work.
Fintech Kennek raises $12.5M seed round to digitize lending
London-based fintech startup Kennek has raised $12.5 million in seed funding to expand its lending operating system.
According to an Oct. 10 tech.eu report, the round was led by HV Capital and included participation from Dutch Founders Fund, AlbionVC, FFVC, Plug & Play Ventures, and Syndicate One. Kennek offers software-as-a-service tools to help non-bank lenders streamline their operations using open banking, open finance, and payments.
The platform aims to automate time-consuming manual tasks and consolidate fragmented data to simplify lending. Xavier De Pauw, founder of Kennek said:
“Until kennek, lenders had to devote countless hours to menial operational tasks and deal with jumbled and hard-coded data – which makes every other part of lending a headache. As former lenders ourselves, we lived and breathed these frustrations, and built kennek to make them a thing of the past.”
The company said the latest funding round was oversubscribed and closed quickly despite the challenging fundraising environment. The new capital will be used to expand Kennek’s engineering team and strengthen its market position in the UK while exploring expansion into other European markets. Barbod Namini, Partner at lead investor HV Capital, commented on the investment:
“Kennek has developed an ambitious and genuinely unique proposition which we think can be the foundation of the entire alternative lending space. […] It is a complicated market and a solution that brings together all information and stakeholders onto a single platform is highly compelling for both lenders & the ecosystem as a whole.”
The fintech lending space has grown rapidly in recent years, but many lenders still rely on legacy systems and manual processes that limit efficiency and scalability. Kennek aims to leverage open banking and data integration to provide lenders with a more streamlined, automated lending experience.
The seed funding will allow the London-based startup to continue developing its platform and expanding its team to meet demand from non-bank lenders looking to digitize operations. Kennek’s focus on the UK and Europe also comes amid rising adoption of open banking and open finance in the regions.
Featured Image Credit: Photo from Kennek.io; Thank you!
Fortune 500’s race for generative AI breakthroughs
As excitement around generative AI grows, Fortune 500 companies, including Goldman Sachs, are carefully examining the possible applications of this technology. A recent survey of U.S. executives indicated that 60% believe generative AI will substantially impact their businesses in the long term. However, they anticipate a one to two-year timeframe before implementing their initial solutions. This optimism stems from the potential of generative AI to revolutionize various aspects of businesses, from enhancing customer experiences to optimizing internal processes. In the short term, companies will likely focus on pilot projects and experimentation, gradually integrating generative AI into their operations as they witness its positive influence on efficiency and profitability.
Goldman Sachs’ Cautious Approach to Implementing Generative AI
In a recent interview, Goldman Sachs CIO Marco Argenti revealed that the firm has not yet implemented any generative AI use cases. Instead, the company focuses on experimentation and setting high standards before adopting the technology. Argenti recognized the desire for outcomes in areas like developer and operational efficiency but emphasized ensuring precision before putting experimental AI use cases into production.
According to Argenti, striking the right balance between driving innovation and maintaining accuracy is crucial for successfully integrating generative AI within the firm. Goldman Sachs intends to continue exploring this emerging technology’s potential benefits and applications while diligently assessing risks to ensure it meets the company’s stringent quality standards.
One possible application for Goldman Sachs is in software development, where the company has observed a 20-40% productivity increase during its trials. The goal is for 1,000 developers to utilize generative AI tools by year’s end. However, Argenti emphasized that a well-defined expectation of return on investment is necessary before fully integrating generative AI into production.
To achieve this, the company plans to implement a systematic and strategic approach to adopting generative AI, ensuring that it complements and enhances the skills of its developers. Additionally, Goldman Sachs intends to evaluate the long-term impact of generative AI on their software development processes and the overall quality of the applications being developed.
Goldman Sachs’ approach to AI implementation goes beyond merely executing models. The firm has created a platform encompassing technical, legal, and compliance assessments to filter out improper content and keep track of all interactions. This comprehensive system ensures seamless integration of artificial intelligence in operations while adhering to regulatory standards and maintaining client confidentiality. Moreover, the platform continuously improves and adapts its algorithms, allowing Goldman Sachs to stay at the forefront of technology and offer its clients the most efficient and secure services.
Featured Image Credit: Photo by Google DeepMind; Pexels; Thank you!
UK seizes web3 opportunity simplifying crypto regulations
As Web3 companies increasingly consider leaving the United States due to regulatory ambiguity, the United Kingdom must simplify its cryptocurrency regulations to attract these businesses. The conservative think tank Policy Exchange recently released a report detailing ten suggestions for improving Web3 regulation in the country. Among the recommendations are reducing liability for token holders in decentralized autonomous organizations (DAOs) and encouraging the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) to adopt alternative Know Your Customer (KYC) methodologies, such as digital identities and blockchain analytics tools. These suggestions aim to position the UK as a hub for Web3 innovation and attract blockchain-based businesses looking for a more conducive regulatory environment.
Streamlining Cryptocurrency Regulations for Innovation
To make it easier for emerging Web3 companies to navigate existing legal frameworks and contribute to the UK’s digital economy growth, the government must streamline cryptocurrency regulations and adopt forward-looking approaches. By making the regulatory landscape clear and straightforward, the UK can create an environment that fosters innovation, growth, and competitiveness in the global fintech industry.
The Policy Exchange report also recommends not weakening self-hosted wallets or treating proof-of-stake (PoS) services as financial services. This approach aims to protect the fundamental principles of decentralization and user autonomy while strongly emphasizing security and regulatory compliance. By doing so, the UK can nurture an environment that encourages innovation and the continued growth of blockchain technology.
Despite recent strict measures by UK authorities, such as His Majesty’s Treasury and the FCA, toward the digital assets sector, the proposed changes in the Policy Exchange report strive to make the UK a more attractive location for Web3 enterprises. By adopting these suggestions, the UK can demonstrate its commitment to fostering innovation in the rapidly evolving blockchain and cryptocurrency industries while ensuring a robust and transparent regulatory environment.
The ongoing uncertainty surrounding cryptocurrency regulations in various countries has prompted Web3 companies to explore alternative jurisdictions with more precise legal frameworks. As the United States grapples with regulatory ambiguity, the United Kingdom can position itself as a hub for Web3 innovation by simplifying and streamlining its cryptocurrency regulations.
Featured Image Credit: Photo by Jonathan Borba; Pexels; Thank you!