By Francesco Scarnera, CEO, iBe TSE
In Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, the crew of the Enterprise travel back in time to the present day. Confronted by a computer, the engineer Scotty talks to it and expects it to respond. When it doesn’t, he picks up the mouse, imagining it to be a microphone – but there’s no response.
Of course, we’re nearing the time when we’ll be able to laugh along with this, talking to our computers freely rather than clicking mice or tapping smartphone screens.
And with the recent news that Amazon sold 9m Echo units last year, the speech recognition revolution is well and truly upon us. I don’t believe that it’s just a fad; to me, the hesitation feels like the same phenomenon we experienced around contactless; a lack of trust and experience. It’s not been helped by the mainstream media highlighting privacy concerns with Alexa, as well as the inevitable mess-up of people ordering a truckload of toilet roll instead of a pack. Now whilst my new puppy Pablito would love to play with this much toilet roll, it’s really no different to ‘accidentally’ ordering shopping online whilst drunk – you can’t blame the tech (although did I mention that we have an app for that?).
It’s not just our favourite online bookstore which is in this space: Google also launched its rival, Google Home in April 2017 – and even Apple’s Siri and Microsoft’s Cortana could be considered rivals. All of these systems use smart speech recognition to help people in their daily lives – and I’ve even seen articles suggesting that these technologies are bringing talking back! I for one am glad of this – sometimes I have found myself sending a Slack message to someone across the room, when I could have just spoken to them in person.
Perhaps more importantly, what does this mean for payments? Well, it’s destroying another barrier to entry and again I’d compare this to the contactless revolution. Contactless meant that could just drop into a shop and spend £4.50 without having any coins in your wallet or purse. Voice commands make it easy to say ‘Alexa, I had too much beer last night, order me a big greasy pizza right now’ rather than having to find your phone underneath the duvet, log onto JustEat or HungryHouse and then struggle to order a pizza, having forgotten the CVC code on your debit card.
Amazon is a company that understands this principle well; Amazon Prime’s next-day delivery is another mechanic which removes the barrier to online shopping. If you’re going to get your order tomorrow, then why step outside when you can have what you want within 24 hours and probably for a lower price? I know that Amazon’s profits have been slim, but it’s a company which really understands lowering barriers to buying. Come to think of it, even Kindle fits into this bracket!
I’m sure that people will continue to find handy applications for this technology: I recently read a story about a journalist carrying out home improvements and asking Alexa about DIY techniques on the fly, which is incredibly useful when you don’t have any free hands! This development also has the potential to improve the intelligence held by retailers – if consumers are asking about DIY projects, a savvy retailer working with Amazon or Google could offer a discount on home improvement goods. This was a point raised during our annual Digital Loyalty Day, where issuers, processors and marketing teams all came together to discuss a number of industry challenges. A great point was raised, that building an intelligent, analytics-based approach will be far more likely to build a valuable relationship with consumers.
This combination of technologies paints a very rosy picture of the future; retailers who have actionable intelligence at their fingertips, providing a personalised service to consumers, who can in turn simply speak to get something done. It’s very close to being the pinnacle of easy-to-use technology – until we can order pizza with our thoughts alone, this is truly the final frontier.