Our computers and smartphones are getting better and better at interpreting our questions and commands. Apple’s Siri will check the baseball score when you ask her. Google Now will navigate you home in a foreign city if you ask “where’s my hotel” during a trip. But the most magical interaction of them all may be sitting in my living room and saying “Xbox, On” to turn on my television, cable box, and Xbox One. A pile of inert silicon wakes, just like a person would, at the mere sound of my voice.
Now, developments by Microsoft and Intel will bring the same function to PCs. Windows 10 Cortana, coupled with Intel’s new sixth generation chips, will turn on desktops and laptops with the command, “Cortana, wake up.” This development is possible because Intel has actually designed their chips with a very low power digital signal processor that’s always running on the chip, and Cortana is designed to take advantage of it.
A minor advancement in the grand scheme of user interface? Sure. But having lived with the feature on an Xbox for over a year, I can say, while I forget Siri even exists on my iPhone, this single voice interaction to turn on my Xbox sets me up to use voice controls across the platform. “Xbox On” is like the first line of a conversation every time I sit at my couch. Primed for discussion from the get go, I tend to yell at my Xbox–even when it doesn’t understand, and it may be faster (and quieter!) to use a remote–to change channels, swap apps, and eventually turn off.
For voice UI to take over–not necessarily as the quintessential UI, but at least a staple in our daily experience–all of these hardware and software platforms have to be better at hearing us. They need to understand, just like a person would, when we ask them a question that may otherwise be off their pre-programmed script. And in this regard, activating on-voice command really is a watershed moment for computing, creating a world in which our electronics are never deaf to our needs; they merely dozed off for a moment.