Skip to main content

Ok Google, how will you become relevant to businesses?

(Image credit: Image Credit: Georgejmclittle / Shutterstock)

With the rise of Alexa, Google Home, Siri, Cortana, and many others, voice is quickly becoming the next predominant interface for everyday interactions from banking to emails. People are using voice assistants as an easier way to play music, ask questions or order items online. Voice services have the power to expedite and streamline personal activities, though we have yet to see it break into the enterprise.    

One indicator of this trend is Mary Meeker’s 2017 Internet Trends report, which showed that while Google’s voice recognition technology is reaching “near human level” and Alexa Skills went from 14 skills in 2015 to over 13,000 skills and counting in 2017, the business capabilities for Alexa hover at only 2.17% of the total 13,000 skills. While voice assistant skills in the home continue to increase and improve our daily lives, there is a major gap in what is available to the enterprise. Integrating voice assistants in work environments has clear benefits to businesses.    

There are three main advantages of using voice that can benefit business:   

Form Factor:  Microphones are already incorporated into most devices, and as an input are typically less than 0.5mm (smaller than a pinhead) and can fit on devices with increasingly smaller form factors. With less hardware, a voice assistant will be easy to transport throughout the office and on business travel. The size and capabilities of a microphone offer a more efficient platform than a screen, which must be large enough for users to see and read.    

Increase Productivity: The speed at which you speak is 4 times faster than typing or gesturing, allowing employees to do more with voice assistants. This increases productivity and opens up opportunities for employees to take on more difficult tasks.    

Ease of Use: Finally, you have learned how to use and master your voice from your first words (command interfaces) to expressing complex thought (conversational interfaces). Your human voice unlocks any device simplifying authentication of devices, programs, etc.   

The ability for an app, service, device or machine to verify one’s identity using their voice lowers the friction of enterprise adoption to zero. With the capability to prove identity in existing services and unlock new services using your voice, there is potential for voice-powered services to become ubiquitous; like a voice assistant pulling up your work files using the system in your house, at work or in a hotel room across the country.    

So despite the broad-reaching, impactful possibilities, why is voice adoption slow to adopt among businesses? The short answer is security. Voice assistant technology has not yet been focused on this core need of every business. It’s a risk that businesses can’t afford. While voice services today largely know what is being said, they cannot differentiate between who is saying it. The current system of recognizing different voices is at its infancy. Voice platforms cannot detect your voice between another member of your household or a stranger who’s never interacted with your system before. This leaves you susceptible to voice replay attacks, for example, someone playing a recording of you saying "Ok Google” will activate a Google Home. Google even caveats this during setup, noting a similar voice or recording may be able to access this information too.  

In the future, voice assistants will have to be able to identity who is speaking, based on the factors that uniquely makeup every individual’s voice. This will play a pivotal role in increasing security and trust for voice interactions. It’s imperative that we build security and identity into these devices as a first order primitive as opposed to trying to fix it once attackers have compromised it.    

Today, there are examples of early and simplistic uses of voice assistants in business, such as dictation, checking the status of deliverables, scheduling meetings and/or booking conference rooms. In the future, we expect voice assistant skills will become more complex using natural language processing, which will allow for conversations between the user and the voice assistant. For example, they could be used for storing and sorting through data on employees such as benefits, salaries and PTO time. Voice assistants could even go as far as researching a specific topic and sharing findings or analyzing data from within the company. Ideally the operating system wouldn’t just be for these tasks, but also bridge together all connected devices in a business allowing users to access anything with a simple voice command and that is where the need for a strong security system comes in. By implementing a higher standard of security, voice will become the universal form of passwords for apps, banking, and even accessing work information.    

With each new wave of technology, there is always a period in which security needs to catch up with the innovation. Take, for example, the rise of smartphones. Early on, the majority of companies required their employee base to carry a separate, work-issued device that was compliant with their IT department requirements. Eventually, security measures increased with new devices, software solutions, and demands from employee populations to choose their own technology. This allowed for employee’s personal iPhones and Android devices to become pervasive in the work environment. Security standards for phones and laptops are now implemented throughout enterprise and consumer devices and the same should be expected for voice assistants.   

Voice in the enterprise will be a slow adoption, but as security reaches enterprise levels, we’ll see a rapid progression - just as we’ve seen with every technology. If you can make your employees more productive, reduce the form factor of devices to the point of technology disappearing and reduce the costs by introducing easy to use devices, adoption will happen quickly once the gates are open. The question is - who will focus on opening those gates first: Google, Amazon, Apple or Microsoft? 

David Dewey, Director of Research at Pindrop 

Image Credit: Georgejmclittle / Shutterstock

David Dewey
David Dewey is the Director of Research at Pindrop, where he leads the Pindrop Labs team. Dewey has presented at Black Hat and NDSS. He earned a B.A. in electrical engineering from the Virginia Military Institute and a Ph.D. in computer science from the Georgia Institute of Technology.