The Impact of Voice Recognition Technology on Aging in Place

No one ever said growing older was easy.  As the world’s population ages with alarming speed, innovations and technology are being rapidly explored to address as many of the components of aging as possible.  One such piece of technology that is quickly gaining ground is the use of voice recognition to drive a myriad of options for home use.

Voice or speech recognition is not new and you will recognize using it to “talk” to everything from your cell phone, car and PC, to everyone’s favorite – automated call handling (i.e. “Did you say……?”).  Total Voice Technology noted a report from Tractica, a market intelligence firm (www.tractica.com), that stated “…native speech recognition software for mobile devices will likely skyrocket from 45 percent usage in 2014 to 82 percent usage in 2020.” This means the use of the human voice to guide computer-driven interactions that allow you to make a dinner reservation or doctor’s appointment or even notify your family in an emergency, will turn recognition of one’s own voice into actionable events.

What are the advantages of voice recognition technology to those who want to age in place (AIP) or remain living in their homes as they age?  There are innumerable ones, which then begs the question, “What problems or issues would this technology solve for me?”  (The “what’s in it for me” question.)

First of all, this option takes away the need to press buttons, which removes the use of a keyboard or anything that would require being touched to perform a command.  Inherent in this is that the user would not have to be in the same room as the device that controls the voice-driven commands.  As we age, our movements (and especially hand/finger dexterity) become more limited, so being able to perform a task without having to move toward the device to do it is a plus.

Second, it is probable that the creators of this technology will recognize that each user will have vastly different needs and tasks that need to be performed, so customization or adaptation will most likely be a crucial component to the success of these devices.  This, then, would create a whole “menu” of options the user could choose from to fit their lifestyle.

Third, the advantage to those who want to remain in their homes for as long as they can is that this technology will rapidly become a personal assistant or personal concierge service.  No longer would you have to go to the grocery store, pick up prescriptions, or keep a paper calendar.  You could also turn on music or TV, call a friend or family, send health biometrics to your doctor, be reminded to take medication…the list goes on and on.  So this, then, should answer the question, “What’s in it for me?”

But don’t be fooled.  All technology has its limitations and speech recognition is no different.  All humans have distinctive patterns of speech.  Some voices have various inflections from foreign languages to slurring to halting speech.  All of these could affect how well the device can then execute a command.  Inherent to this technology also could be diminished socialization. Research has upheld that continuous social contact is a critical component to successful healthy aging.  And would the ability to constantly “talk” to a device significantly reduce physical movement, such as walking or other exercise, also a significant aspect of a healthy lifestyle?

Are there privacy issues or security threats that will need to be addressed with technology that runs off of a computer? You can bet the creators of this technology will put as much effort into addressing those issues as they will developing the product itself.

Clearly the future is rapid unfolding for voice recognition.  And this is one reason it could not be a better time to age in place.

Reference:

“The Growing Trend of Voice Recognition Software.”  Web Blog Post.  Total Voice Technologies. Web. 2 Sept 2015.

 

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Categories: Technology and seniors

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