What A Difference A Voice Makes

October 23, 2011

Nancy considers the potential of voice control/voice activation applications for people with special needs – people like her son. Keep up with Nancy at the Intel Canada Facebook page.

Voice control for mobile devices seems to have suddenly hit the mainstream. Siri is your personal concierge on the iPhone 4s. Blackberry is giving away iSpeech. The upcoming Android 4.0 has more robust voice controls. There are some immediate benefits for us people who love apps — but what could it mean for those with special needs?

This has the potential to change the way we operate in our world – a world in which we currently depend so much on the ability to read and write. In fact, this technology holds significant implications for my 12-year-old son. Today, he reads at a Grade 2 level, but he has a very strong grasp of the English language. His verbal communications are quite strong. Unfortunately, our current school system is completely dependent on all students learning the same way. The progress of this technology could provide the tools for him to live more independently and successfully. He has a huge imagination and is very creative, he has already developed his own YouTube short videos… but if he was to graduate in today’s world his career choices would be extremely limited. The potential for him for example become a movie director is currently nonexistent because he couldn’t fill in job applications or write letters of introduction. But if voice activation continues to develop, he’ll have a way of of overcoming the challenges that stand in his way.

The history of voice activation is littered with “almosts,” “sort ofs” and “not good enoughs.” Training a computer to understand the different pronunciation of words and dialects is no small task. I’m encouraged that there are a lot of smart engineers and software developers trying to fix this. As they continue to refine and improve it this will become a positively disruptive technology that opens doors for potential new business models and opportunities for people like my son.

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