Are We Headed For A Talkpocalypse?

In a newly published report, Forrester Research calls voice control the Next Big Thing. Noisy times ahead.


Apple has Siri. Google has Voice Search. Microsoft just announced Cortana on Windows Phones (think Siri mixed with the video game Halo). And Amazon’s new FireTV set top box will have voice control built right into the remote.


It doesn’t require much mental acuity to spot a trend: Voice control is becoming ubiquitous. But what does that actually mean? According to James L. McQuivey–an analyst at the global research and advisory firm Forrester Research–virtually every object in your whole life will be eavesdropping on you all the time. It’s all in a report McQuivey just published called “The Future of Voice Control Goes Far Beyond Dictation.”

And we read it so you don’t have to. Here are the major points:

Voice Is Going To Take Over.

Cortana in “Halo”

In the future, Forrester imagines that you will say “order more toothpaste” when you finish brushing your teeth. Then a company like Amazon might send you more Crest. You might also be driving in your car, and say, “I’m running late, delay my morning appointment by 20 minutes,” and Google Calendar will handle the rest.


Voice Control Is Cheap For Consumers.
What makes this omnipresent voice connection possible, the researchers argue, is that you already have Internet-connected microphones all around you. Your smartphone has a mic. Your tablet has a mic. Your laptop has a mic. But more than that, tech companies could sell you standalone, Internet-connected microphones that are capable of sticking to your bathroom mirror or your car’s dashboard for $25–and still cut a profit.

Voice Control Will Make Tech Companies Lots Of Money.
For tech companies, the real money in voice control isn’t in the hardware. It’s in the software. Because when Amazon sends you more Crest, that’s cash for Amazon. Beyond that, though, Forrester imagines that these voice systems will listen to everything you say, and analyze it big-data-style, developing revenue streams from what you’re talking about.

Privacy, Psha.
If you think a future in which every word we say is recorded feels a bit like Big Brother, then I’m right there with you. But the Forrester report sidesteps concerns of privacy, and potential consumer impact of NSA scandals.

Voice Is An Inherently Emotional Experience.

Amazon FireTVImagecourtesy of Amazon

Convenience isn’t the only appeal of voice control; we want to talk to our computers. And the more we talk to our computers, the more we’ll want to talk to our computers. Because speech is so inherently human, Forrester argues, voice control “deepens the potential emotional connection with every command.” That argument might sound too much like pop psychology for your taste, so try this one: Since voice can work in virtually any context, you’ll use voice a lot, perpetually reinforcing the habit, Forrester says.


Now, is Forrester right about how the future will play out? McQuivey’s argument makes a lot of sense, aside from one point. He sees voice as a unifying umbrella that can be used across all products and services. In other words, your Apple iWatch might listen to you, and your Amazon Kindle might, too. In fact, maybe the Amazon app will listen to you through the iWatch to order you more Kindle books!

Technically, that’s possible. But when multiple companies are listening to the exact same words, combing through your desires and requests and elbowing to best serve them first, the casual convenience of voice could give way to mass confusion and competition.

Or put more simply, when you say, “I’d like to listen to some Kanye,” is it iTunes, Google Play, Amazon, Rdio, or Spotify that actually plays that Kanye first? Short of micromanaging your vocal commands (saying “Hey [company x], play some Kanye!” ) or managing a list of preferences as robust as life itself (specifying minutiae like, “When I’m out of Dial, always order more from Walmart, but when I’m out of deodorant, always check the stock at Target”), there’s no ready solution to this coming talkpocalypse.

Indeed, a world controlled by voice will be cacophony, unless many different companies with disparate goals learn to play as one.


About the author

Mark Wilson is a senior writer at Fast Company who has written about design, technology, and culture for almost 15 years. His work has appeared at Gizmodo, Kotaku, PopMech, PopSci, Esquire, American Photo and Lucky Peach