The Future Of Enterprise Voice AI Is Genderless, In Your Car And (Hopefully) More Secure
Today’s voice-powered AI assistant has many names—Siri, Alexa, Cortana—but as this developing technology becomes ubiquitous in both consumer and enterprise environments, Chuck Ganapathi has a suggestion for his industry colleagues:
“Let’s not pretend it’s a human,” the founder and CEO of Tact said Monday during the Voice AI in the Enterprise panel at the Forbes CIO Summit in Half Moon Bay, California, taking a jab at Google’s eerily lifelike Duplex AI system. “It’s a robot.”
What’s more, he said, the enterprise must be careful not to hark back to the secretary pools of old: Voice assistants at work shouldn’t automatically sound like they’re women. His company intentionally gave its AI-based customer-relationship management system a gender-free name and gives users multiple voice options at setup. He also commended the work of a European agency called Virtue that launched the first “genderless” digital assistant voice this spring.
While the adoption of voice AI has been much more popular for consumers than for businesses so far, Ganapathi says he sees change on the horizon, and that it will start on wheels: He sees one of the immediate uses for voice in the enterprise as being in the car.
Consider deskless workers, such as salespeople, he says, or employees with long commutes. For safety reasons, those workers shouldn’t be looking at screens, so interacting with a system via voice is quite compelling. While it may be harder to shift people’s behaviors in the office, carpooling with a voice AI assistant could be an easy route to widespread adoption. He seems to be on to something: Last year, Tact raised $27 million from Salesforce Ventures, Amazon and Microsoft.
Still, workers do seem willing to talk to their devices in an office environment, too.
“We are shocked at [how quickly voice AI was adopted] by consumers,” said panel member Lorissa Horton. “There been a cultural shift.”
The vice president and general manager of Cisco’s Team Collaboration group says there has been a warm reception for its Webex assistant, which allows users to control meetings via voice. The challenge, however, has been making sure that the AI is sophisticated enough to prove its worth. For voice assistants in the enterprise, Horton says, the questions are, “How complex of a question can you get into and how can it save me time?”
Another challenge is the security—or lack thereof—of voice technologies, as demonstrated in the consumer sector last May when Alexa recorded a family’s private conversation and then sent that conversation to one family member’s business associate. Recalling the incident sent cringes through the panel. While an mass voice AI data leak is bad in the consumer space, it could be so much worse in the enterprise, considering the important financial information and intellectual property that may be shared.
“You have to trust that your company is keeping your data secure,” said Marco Casalaina, the VP of Einstein, Salesforce’s voice AI arm, who is developing technology to help sales teams talk to their CRM platforms. Leaking those conversations could tank a company, he said, as client information is a company’s lifeblood.
“That’s why our AI capabilities have long pilot periods,” he said.
Enterprise may be taking its time in terms of voice AI adoption, and that’s one good reason why.