Press Release

ABI estimates that voice control device shipments for smart home devices hit 141 million last year, and in 2020 will grow globally by close to 30 percent. But what impact will voice control have on the workplace in light of COVID-19?

As part of a new healthy workplace protocol when returning to offices and facilities, it may not be surprising to see employees asking a voice-controlled elevator device to navigate to their office. COVID-19 has brought a variety of challenges for industries that traditionally congregate workers in office environments. While what the future workplace will look like is still unclear, voice-controlled devices and other methods may help employees to stay safe as alternatives to pressing communal buttons and touching workplace electronics needed to be productive throughout the day.

IEEE Life Senior Member Raul Colcher, comments, “Voice control technologies have been around for some time and are already present in intelligent agents in our homes and in many systems as a way to improve interfaces between humans and devices. It is only natural that they are now used to prevent physical contact and the spread of infections.”

Corporate offices have been slower to adopt these types of technologies for employees but IoT-connected, voice-controlled and automated devices with bluetooth and wireless local area network connectivity could prevent employees from physically interacting with high-touch buttons, appliances and hardware.

IEEE Senior Member André Leon Gradvohl, explains, “A simple order – through the user’s voice or cell phone – will be translated into control signals and sent over the network to the device, which in turn, will execute the command. In the case of voice-controlled systems, programs that use artificial intelligence decode the voice and understand the command vocalised by the user, translating it into signals for the controlled device. Those artificial intelligence programs use machine learning algorithms to learn to interpret the orders received in the form of sound, and to transcode them into a command that the device answers.”

IEEE Senior Member Kevin Curran agrees that voice control technology is a great next step to limiting transmission, however he warns that voice authentication must also be implemented to protect employee and company privacy. He comments, “The main barrier to any widespread adoption has been the problem of aural eavesdropping. Quite simply, casual or malicious bystanders may overhear private information spoken by screen readers or users.”

Voice authentication is a biometric method that understands and recognises the unique and individual sound of a speaker’s voice. This is often used with voice-controlled passwords to ensure privacy is aurally maintained – even if there is an eavesdropper around. Voice control and IoT device technology is not new, but innovative ways to utilise the technology in corporate environments may provide us with valuable protection that we need when workforces come physically together again.