In 1952 Bell Labs researchers created the first speech recognition system. They named it Audrey, and it was capable of understanding 10 spoken digits (“0” to “9”), separated by pauses and uttered by a designated speaker. Fast forward 59 years to 2011. That was the year Apple launched Siri on the iPhone, boldly introducing a new type of intelligent voice application to a mass market. Three years later Amazon shocked the tech industry by preemptively unveiling Echo, the first voice activated home appliance.
Today, Alexa, Siri, Google Assistant and other voice assistants have crossed the chasm into the mass market. They are embedded in iOS and Android devices and power the smart speaker product category pioneered by Amazon. They have crossed a technology chasm as well: the technology finally works well enough to be useful. Voice assistants aren’t intelligent in any meaningful sense, but the speech recognition works well and continues to improve. Meanwhile, artificial intelligence (AI) research progresses at an accelerating rate with innovations in algorithms, models and silicon promising to increase the voice assistant’s cognitive endowment.
It has been a long journey but the voice assistant is just the beginning of an AI revolution that promises—some might say threatens—to transform industries, markets, and society as a whole. This white paper analyzes the current voice assistant market and technology landscape while providing historical context around the evolution of the core speech recognition technology.