Friday, November 14, 2008


A friend recently demonstrated i-phone's ability to find the song hummed to it; a neat trick but not a "Killer Application". Killer APPS are "game changers". They are the things, that when your neighbor gets one, you have to have one. Today, Google voice search goes live on the i-phone. Ask where is Shell Gasoline? and the i-phone provides a Google map of your current location with Shell stations marked with teardrops.

Sophisticated voice systems, such as those sold by Nuance, are exceptional tools, but they require practice time for the computer to learn the nuances of each voice. Google's recognition ability has a long way to go to reach the accuracy of the Nuance systems, but many questions will be correctly answered in the early days and most will be answered correctly in future days. As this technology is widely adopted, productivity will take another giant leap forward. Trillions of questions will be asked. The answers will ultimately save consumers Trillions of Trillions of time and dollars.

The skeptical will retort that the world is going to be "cold" when people talk to machines instead of to other people. Successful people will use the computer conversations to raise human conversations to a new level of quality. The system will benefit us is by helping us avoid annoying unnecessary interruptions. I will not need to call my wife to find out things that I "should know". I have found that women just love to have their man call to ask what time the ball game starts.

Over time, the answers will "go deep". Instead of just mapping Shell stations locations, the maps will display prices. Instead of only asking generic questions, one will be able to ask specific questions, such as, What is on my calendar for the afternoon? or What is on my wife's birthday wish list? That is about as deep as I get but others of you will think of deeper questions.

The process will be like that of two young children having a conversation. At first, the computer will have a hard time understanding what its connected children are asking and the connected children will only know to ask for the basics. Later, the computer will know to provide certain information at certain times without being asked; the computer might happen to mention that the traffic has stopped moving on I-40 and the next exit offers the fastest time to work. Later still, new information will be input by voice. Such as, Computer please add an item to my calendar: meeting with the boss at 3:15 -- over-ride the automatic 15 minute meeting reminder with a 30 minute alarm.

A new "Killer App" is here. The time will come when everyone must have a "talking computer phone". Social networks, such as FaceBook, are reaching the level of killer apps. These systems are part of the same need for easy access to information. Closer connections between members of all sorts of groups, social and work related, make for better relationships and better communication.

There will always be other Killer Apps, but the dream of voice computer communication has been around for a long time, well before the early days of Star Trek. The early adoption phase will see rapid growth from a zero base. We should enter the dramatic growth stage, when the base is already 10% of the population and growing rapidly, within two or three years. Computer chips will notify our computer phones of many worthwhile details. There will be "big brother" concerns when the computer knows who is late from lunch and is currently located at Joe's Bar and Grill etc., but we will work through the proper and improper uses of the technology. We will keep the benefits and throw out most of the down side. A new age has dawned.