Accessibility is one of the core, fundamental concepts in the development and evolution of the World Wide Web. With the development of numerous platforms that support web use, device functionality and user requirement has led to an increase in the demand for a greater number of input methods and accessibility options. Mouse click and typed key press have their inherent limitations when it comes to accessibility, and so, technologists have renewed their focus on speech synthesis to provide some answers.

As an assistive technology speech synthesis allows for a greater level of accessibility to those people with a wide range of disabilities. Outside of the disability sphere, but not unrelated, speech synthesis, combined with speech recognition, has allowed for device interaction through natural language processing interfaces such as Siri on iOS mobile devices and S Voice on Samsung Android mobile devices. 

Siri: What can I help you with?

As humans we intuitively translate sounds into some form of recognisable speech. Speech recognition, combined with speech synthesis produces sentences that create the sound that users then interpret into a universally recognisable form of speech. In other words no matter where a person is from or what language they speak the aim of synthesised speech is to produce sentences that create the sound those users can then interpret into a universally recognisable form of speech. The Siri voice recognition and speech synthesis application now operates across multiple languages, with geographic limitations becoming less and less of an issue with every iteration of its operating system. In essence, applications like Siri provide a human element to an otherwise faceless interaction and create the emotive and personal response that robotic or mechanic interactions fail to achieve. 

With speech recognition still being used in applications including voice dialling, call routing, domestic appliance control, search, simple data entry and in the preparation of structured documents it is clear that the technology is becoming more and more part of the digital day. Marketers and advertisers will instantly recognise the opportunity of engaging with an end user through a medium that conveys the emotional quality that only a human can achieve with tone and delivery. Eliciting feedback, interaction, data capture and most importantly direct response through speech recognition has the potential to pre-empt accessibility issues inherent with asking a user to type their responses. Take a look at this ad demonstration from a well known automotive brand that offers the user the option of interaction through touch selection or by speech selection.

With technologists constantly changing how we use their products it is conceivable that speech recognition may soon overtake typed input as the preferred method of interaction. Recent product releases, such as the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus, demonstrate functionality that was previously exclusively accessed through typed or touched input now using spoken commands. These include activating the camera, timer, calendar and task list, not to mention playing music, video or updating social accounts. The recent trend in wearable technology appears to have adopted speech recognition as the dominant means of input suggesting that typed input may indeed become redundant in the future just as many people think the ability to write by hand has been forgotten.

Is this a possible reality? Will you, at some stage in the future, be showing your grandchildren pictures of a keyboard and a mouse describing with some nostalgia how we used to type and click in order to produce input and output? As these virtual personal assistants become more and more embedded in our daily lives, effectively becoming the gateway between our virtual and physical worlds, brands have already started looking at ways to use these helpers to better interact with their customers. No, the machines aren’t taking over, but the change is happening quickly so it’s important not to be left behind.

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