Alexa Is In The ICU

Bleeding money, Amazon is rethinking the value of voice.

First the good news. The transformative potential of voice recognition technology is a reality. The many uses of voice in consumer products, such as Alexa, are only the beginning. More and more industries are realizing the power of a natural spoken interface to provide a human-like connection. Speech analysis can provide a powerful tool for a variety of applications from diagnosis and treatment to patient satisfaction surveys. Voice recognition coupled with artificial intelligence has the potential to revolutionize the way we engage with technology and the lives we lead.

Now the bad news. Alexa, the much-heralded voice-activated assistant developed by Amazon is, in their words, “a colossal failure” and is projected to lose $10 billion in 2022. What seems to be driven by business decisions, the value of voice recognition might be a victim of the marketplace and the ability to monetize powerful technology.

Now, back to the good news. Voice remains a central aspect of clinical medicine and the utility of voice recognition and analysis is here to stay. Clinicians are taught to look, listen and feel. And for patients, the expression of clinical signs and symptoms is, in part, a function of speech. Breath is the template upon which vast amounts of information are delivered to the healthcare professional. Yet many of these vocal biomarkers are either not detected or translated into a few choice words or phrases that are more directional and instinctive rather than focused diagnostic insights. These few words can find their way into the clinical record as hollow expressions of a more complex scenario.

However, voice can provide a powerful tool to drive a new level of clinical awareness as well as diagnosis. From Alzheimer’s disease to cancer, voice has the potential to drive diagnosis and earlier treatment.

Accuracy. High levels of accuracy can be achieved and validated as a reliable tool for diagnosis.

Simplicity. Relying on voice alone, a simple smartphone can provide the “sample” to be tested.

Speed. Real-time acquisition and analysis help drive clinical speed and action, even establishing an earlier window for intervention.

Cost. Like many “demonetized” items in healthcare, voice can provide a cost-effect tool to screen and diagnose.

Communication. Voice recognition technology can help improve communication across all stakeholders.

So, this gets us back to Alexa, who is resting somewhat comfortably in the ICU. It’s my prognosis that while financial circumstances suggest an ominous outlook, the necessary therapy may be medicine itself. The convenience of voice in your kitchen may be subordinated by the powerful and evolving utility of voice in healthcare. Combined with artificial intelligence, that agonal voice from the offices of Amazon may be less the arrival of the grim reaper, but the rise of practical and life-saving technology.

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JOHN NOSTA

JOHN NOSTA

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I’m a technology theorist driving innovation at humanity’s tipping point.