21 December 2023

Me, Bret Kinsella from Voicebot.ai: Taking Off the Training Wheels in Voice Tech, We’re Gearing up for the Ultimate Race

By Ronald Smith

Me, Bret Kinsella from Voicebot.ai: Taking Off the Training Wheels in Voice Tech, We're Gearing up for the Ultimate Race

Ever since I got my first Amazon Echo device back in November of 2014, I’ve been absolutely captivated by voice speakers and voice assistant technologies. However, my journey with voice assistants actually began in 2011 when Siri was introduced on my iPhone. Now, in 2021, we’re celebrating the 10th anniversary of voice assistants in our lives, and I couldn’t be more thrilled to have had the opportunity to have a live conversation with Bret Kinsella, the CEO and founder of Voicebot.ai.

During our conversation, Bret and I delved into various topics, including the impact the pandemic has had on the adoption of voice technology. We also discussed why it has taken a while for enterprise business application vendors to fully embrace and integrate voice-first technology into their software. Additionally, we explored the exciting use cases that are on the horizon and will definitely grab our attention sooner rather than later.

I wanted to share an edited transcript from a part of our conversation. If you want to listen to the full conversation, just click on the SoundCloud player below!

The Impact of the Pandemic on Voice Technology Adoption

Bret Kinsella: The pandemic made a lot of people use voice technology more, but only in a few specific ways and through one device. Everywhere else, it actually slowed down the growth of the industry. Let me explain what I mean:

So, because people were spending more time at home, we did some surveys to gather data. We usually do these surveys a couple of times a year in places like the U.S., UK, and Germany. What we found was that in the first part of last year, there was a big increase in how much people were using smart speakers. It’s important to note that people weren’t really buying a bunch of new smart speakers, but they were using the ones they already had more often. They were using them for things like finding recipes because everyone was cooking at home, playing games, video chatting, and a few other things. One thing that really took off last year was smart displays, which are smart speakers with a screen that allows you to video chat. In just six months, the number of people who owned a smart display went up from 15% to over 25% in the U.S. So what we saw was that a lot of people who already had smart speakers ended up buying even more of them.

Transforming the Way We Control Our Homes

Let me tell you about something fascinating I discovered. You see, during a certain time, like when people were spending more time at home, something really interesting happened. Do you know what it was? Well, they started using smart speakers more often, especially for their smart homes! It’s like a whole world of possibilities opened up for them.

Now, what exactly is a smart home? It’s a super cool concept where you can control different devices using your voice. Imagine that! Just like the futuristic gadgets in Star Trek! So, as you can imagine, when people got their hands on these smart home devices, they were over the moon with excitement.

Picture this: you’re sitting comfortably on your couch, and with a simple voice command, you can turn off the lights, adjust the thermostat, or even play some groovy tunes. It’s like having your own personal assistant, right in the palm of your hand! Well, actually, it’s more like your voice activating all these amazing features, but you get the idea.

So why did people dive headfirst into the world of smart home devices? I think it’s because they were looking for new projects to do while staying at home. These devices offered them a chance to unleash their creativity and feel a sense of accomplishment. It’s like stepping into a world of possibilities.

So, my friend, if you’re someone who loves tinkering with gadgets and enjoys the thrill of technology, a smart home device might just be your cup of tea. Not only will it make your life easier, but it will also make you feel like a true innovator. Trust me, there’s nothing quite like the feeling of controlling your home with just the sound of your voice.

So let me tell you what happened. We had this period of limited growth, but something interesting started to occur. Voice technology began to expand onto other platforms more aggressively. However, due to various circumstances, many of these advancements slowed down. It’s worth noting that amidst all this, one area that experienced a surge in voice technology was the consumer market.

If it weren’t for these circumstances, I would have expected to see more brands launching their own voice assistants or independent voice interfaces this year. Unfortunately, many people had to refocus their attention on more pressing matters. You see, it’s important to remember that a year later, it’s easy to forget just how uncertain things were. At the time, nobody knew if they would still be in business three months down the line. So, they had to prioritize what truly mattered.

So you know what really surprised me? I was expecting a lot of voice projects to be cut back last year, but actually, many of them were sustained. It’s kind of a mixed bag, you know? On one hand, there weren’t as many new initiatives as I would have expected. Usually, by the end of the fiscal year in October or November, we would see a bunch of new projects getting funded. But this time, things got pushed back a year. It’s all because of the pandemic, I guess. That’s where we are right now.

Have you ever wondered why more business applications aren’t voice-first?

USamerica.US: When it comes to user adoption, a fuller and more accurate dataset makes it clear that there should be more emphasis on this. However, from my conversations with various vendors and my extensive knowledge in the CRM field, there’s one question that continues to come up: How does voice technology fit into the picture? Interestingly, the response I often hear is that it’s something they are aware of and are listening to their customers about. But here’s the thing – sometimes customers need a little guidance to understand what’s truly possible. It seems like that aspect is being overlooked. The focus is primarily on the immediate needs of the customers, rather than demonstrating how the technology can take things to the next level.

Bret Kinsella: Personally, I haven’t heard much from people in the web app world about this. I think the main reason is that they simply aren’t aware of it. And if they do know about it, they might believe that the only way to implement it is through the assistant model with a conversation, which can be quite complex. You would need to hire conversation designers and deal with managing logs and other additional tasks.

Let’s talk about an interesting concept that not many people know about yet – voice data input. I believe that in about a year, more and more people will become aware of this option, and I hope that you’ll be one of the ones spreading the word. Some companies are already working on this, but they’re fairly new to the market. This technology focuses on speed and other aspects to make data input easier for customer relationship management systems (CRMs), which is a big pain point for many users. Whether it’s improving the experience for your sales or customer service staff, or even for your customers themselves, I believe these systems will become even more valuable. Am I excited about this? Definitely! But I also think there are other things that are even more exciting.

The power of voice assistants

Bret Kinsella: You know what really fascinates me? Assistants that can take charge and make decisions. These assistants are like your loyal sidekicks, always ready to lend a hand even when you’re not around. With them, you can assign tasks and give them more responsibility. We’re only scratching the surface of what they can do, but I believe this is the future we should embrace.

I think it’s great that we now have the ability to ask something to do things for us whenever we want. It’s really convenient, like putting your schedule on your phone or using Uber. But what’s exciting is that we now have the opportunity for something even more revolutionary in the digital world – an intelligent agent that can actually do things for us. This is where voice technology and virtual assistants shine. It’s a new concept that we should be paying attention to. It might take a few years to fully develop, but we’ve already seen glimpses of it.

One example is Google Duplex, which many people are familiar with. It’s a feature that allows Google to set up appointments or reservations for you, like at a hair salon or restaurant.

USamerica.US: I remember when Google Duplex first came out, it was definitely a bit shocking for everyone.

You know what’s fascinating? The Ring doorbells. They’ve got this one model that can communicate with your delivery person right at your doorstep. And get this, you don’t even have to teach it how to do it. It just knows! Afterward, it’ll shoot you a message and give them any instructions you want. It’s pretty nifty. Oh, and there’s a bunch of new gadgets that can keep track of your entire day. They’re so cutting-edge, they even listen to you all the time. Talk about high-tech! You can ask them stuff like, Hey, what did Brent say during my 2:00 meeting about that topic we discussed? I mean, how cool is that?

USamerica.US: That is seriously cool. I gotta say, I’m pretty impressed.

Bret Kinsella: It’s crazy, right? It makes people uncomfortable. They worry that this thing will be listening to them all the time. But then you give them an example of how it could actually be pretty useful, and they start to come around. They’re like, Hey, I could use this every day! It’s fascinating to see this shift in perception. And then there are companies like HereAfter and their founder, James Vlahos. He wrote this amazing book on the voice industry and even created a chatbot called Dadbot a few years ago. He used it to preserve his dad’s memory before he passed away, so he could still talk to him and feel connected.

USamerica.US: Oh, that’s right.

Virtual Humans

Bret Kinsella: Now there are many companies doing this, creating synthetic voices that sound just like the person. It’s not just a chatbot, it’s like having your loved one right there with you. Some find it a little creepy, but I believe most people see it as something special, like an interactive scrapbook. That’s what makes it intriguing. Another thing worth mentioning is virtual humans.

USamerica.US: Wow, virtual humans. That’s amazing…

Recently, I’ve noticed some impressive advancements in technology. For example, there’s GPT-3 and the new Google LaMDA. These innovations are leading us towards a future where voice assistants can do more than just give pre-programmed answers. They will be able to handle any question by searching through vast amounts of data and providing a detailed response. It’s amazing to think that these assistants, like Alexa, Siri, Google Assistant, and Cortana, have become such a familiar presence in our lives. While a few people may not be fans, the majority of us enjoy having them around.

But let me tell you, when they put in a funny character or a robot that talks like a person in these things they study, people really seem to like it. They’re more willing to share and they spend more time interacting with them. So, I think something big is going to happen soon. It’ll be like when Pokemon Go came out for virtual reality, but for virtual humans this time. The technology is getting so good, and people are doing some really cool stuff.

We’re just getting started, you know? It feels like it was just a few years ago when Alexa came out in 2014. Actually, it’s been almost 10 years now, and Siri came out in just a couple months.

USamerica.US: That’s right.

Welcome to the One-on-One Interview series with some awesome thought leaders. What you’re about to read is a transcript of our conversation, edited and spruced up just for you. And hey, if you prefer to listen or watch instead, we’ve got you covered too. Just click on the handy embedded player above or find us on iTunes or Stitcher to subscribe!