July 1, 2019 - Update
Meanwhile, digital assistants are already speaking Dutch. Except for some nuances, Dutch is very similar to Flemish. This means we can communicate more easily in our own language.
It's a good thing we were already prepared for this innovation. Below, you can discover why...
April 17, 2019
Techzine asked the opinion of our CTO, Wouter Martens, about the dangers of the digital language barrier in voice assistants. You can read the full article, in Dutch, on Techzine.be. Or you can just read the summary below.
There's no doubt voice user interface (VUI) is the interface of the future. However, the most popular digital assistants can’t speak Flemish. Wouter explains what we are missing, how bad that is, what we can do about it and what’s ahead for professional voice assistants in Belgium.
What is missing?
Voice as an interface looks like one of the things you don’t need until you use it. Wouter compares the evolution of VUIs with the evolution of smartphones. Ten years ago no one talked about a smartphone. By now the devices are everywhere. For voice assistants, this trend is already visible in big parts of the world. Except for countries like Belgium, where the assistant does not exist for one of the native languages, being Flemish.
How bad is it?
Are we talking about a disaster here? Maybe a little. Voice assistants are known by the general public as consumer devices. However, they also have a big business potential. Businesses can use Artificial Intelligence to support experts in their daily lives. The possibilities here are endless, but not yet completely exploitable. Wouter explains: “The native language is an important factor. Many people have difficulties in communicating in a different language. Voice assistants have to work effortlessly and intuitive. If people don’t get what they expect to get out of the assistant, they will soon abandon their efforts.”
What can we do about it?
It certainly isn’t a good idea to just lean back and wait for the technology to be ready for Flemish speaking assistants. Developing companies as icapps can’t be reluctant because of availability problems. We’ve already started with the development of voice-controlled applications. “It’s perfectly possible to start developing an app using Siri or the Dutch-speaking Google Assistant,” Wouter points out, “converting an application to Flemish afterward isn’t that hard.”
The demand for (Flemish) voice technology lies in our own hands. If we want to avoid lagging behind, we can’t wait any longer to get started. Wouter confirms: “Machine Learning is the power behind voice technology. This way assistants are learning fast and quality is rising. Therefore, adoption of VUIs is stimulated and the voice market becomes increasingly important to organizations.”
Preparing our chatbots
The good news is that Flemish speaking chatbots are more advanced already. Switching from chatbots to voice assistants is not the biggest effort. Apart from speech synthesis, they share the same logic. Together with Oswald, who’s offering a platform for chatbots in our language, we are developing chatbots for one of our partners. This way, we are constantly evaluating, learning and tweaking our assistant technology in order to prepare ourselves for the arrival of the Flemish speaking voice assistant.
Long story short: a lot is moving in the world of voice assistants. Companies have to understand that Flemish-speaking VUIs are definitely coming, sooner rather than later. So we better be ready to jump right before everyone else is doing it.