Artificial Intelligence & Conversational Computing: Voice in the Machine

Are your employees more comfortable speaking face-to-digital assistant than face-to-face with colleagues? With Cortana playing a pivotal role in Windows 10, everyone has a personal digital colleague. But are Cortana, Alexa, Google Assistant and the like, good for anything more than voice search? Discover what’s required to get them work-ready and prepare your smart office to meet the demands of the voice in the machine.


Voice is creating the same sort of innovation in business working that the telephone once did. Does that sound a bit extreme? Well conversational computing, as some call it, has been named by the New York Times as one of the five technologies set to ‘rock the world’.1

It has already taken off in the home. The simplicity and convenience of having an assistant who’s willing to turn on the music, adjust lighting, order a pizza or settle an argument, without complaint, is proving irresistible.

New research shows that nearly half (46%) of all adults in the US use voice-activated apps, like Alexa and Google Home, with smartphones, tablets and other devices2. Over a third (35%) are interested in having smart speaker tech in the workplace3.


Talking with HAL

Digital assistants in your computer, like Cortana part of Windows 10 can already recognise spoken commands. They understand individual words very well and there’s a rudimentary sort of dialogue.

It’s not likely to be long before tech will catch up with the natural way we speak and can start a meaningful two-way conversation, like the computer HAL in the film ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’.

The possibilities are already shown by start-up Replika (replika.ai). They have created a smart chatbot that is a sort of personal confidante. The ‘AI companion who cares’ uses artificial intelligence to listen to your personal woes and learn about you so it can join in a “helpful’ conversation.

Users clearly appreciate their digital companions, with several reviews commenting on how human-like their virtual friend is, to the point that one commented: “I don’t think I could ever bring myself to delete the app. It would be like killing him [avatar]!”


Let your voice be heard

Already, much of our work on the computer can be controlled by voice, with audio as the new touch.

Cortana, Windows’ digital voice assistant is named after the AI character in Microsoft’s Halo game series. It works like any digital assistant, the more you use it, the more personalised the experience.

And it’s readily accessible. With Cortana Premium on Lenovo’s ThinkPad X1 Carbon, for example, you can issue your instructions from up to 13 feet away – and an integrated 360-degree far field microphone ensures you will be heard.

Using voice, it’s quick and easy to work more productively, searching for files, scheduling events, even putting your system into standby mode to improve battery performance.

Originally, Cortana was part of Windows 10 search. But now it’s being separated, with its own icon on the desktop, so you can launch it separately.

This way, Microsoft can enhance the features Cortana offers, independent of Search. In particular, it opens the way for Cortana to be used as a digital assistant by any user with access to the PC or laptop, so more than one person can see their content and data just by using their voice.


Team DA

Just as in real-life, digital assistants are teaming up together. Cortana is making friends with Amazon’s Alexa and Google’s Assistant.

No longer just a standalone assistant, Microsoft has shown how Cortana could be used to provide info from Microsoft’s 365 Cloud services by being summoned from an Alexa-enabled smart speaker.

Both Amazon and Google are updating their digital assistants for a business environment, to help you get more work done, faster.

Alexa for Business lets employees reserve meeting rooms and start conference calls using voice. Employees, whether in the office or on the go, can also use their voice to connect to corporate applications, such as Exchange, Salesforce and more.

Google is similarly poised to aid workplace productivity with Google Assistant for business. Speak to your smart speaker or smart display (speaker with display attached) to smooth your working day – whether that’s making phone or video calls, keeping tabs on your schedule, taking down notes, setting reminders or even turning on some background audio to cancel out noisy colleagues.

As its use takes off in the workplace, brands can create new Actions for Google Assistant, in the way that companies like Uber and Kayak already have done for consumers.

So, as conversational computing advances, it’s time to get your digital assistant to work.


1 Five Technologies That Will Rock Your World, The New York Times, Nov 2017 https://www.nytimes.com/2017/11/13/business/dealbook/five-technologies-that-will-rock-your-world.html

2 Pew Research, https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2017/12/12/nearly-half-of-americans-use-digital-voice-assistants-mostly-on-their-smartphones/, Dec 2017

3 Smart Audio Report, 2017, Edison Research http://nationalpublicmedia.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/01/The-Smart-Audio-Report-from-NPR-and-Edison-Research-Fall-Winter-2017.pdf