Industry Insights

When Will You Talk With Your Can Of Beans?

Do you talk to your mobile phone?  Not that way.
I mean using speech as a user interface.

Lately I’ve been playing with that.
It has been a few years since I had bought a mobile phone, so when I
signed up for new cell phone service I chose a very good device.  It offers an option for spoken instruction and data input,
which is not new.  You talk to it, it
records the the sound it hears, analyzes and offers a text which can be
accepted.  I’ve done this with emails,
for example.  Yesterday I was using the
navigator function and spoke my destination, which it understood without a
problem.  As I drove off to the destination
the device spoke to me, providing directions as the location function followed
my movements.

Perhaps you have tried speech recognition software with your
PC.   Probably you’ve been greeted by a
machine when calling ‘customer service’ over the telephone.  Some of you interact with your vehicle using voice.  Many of you saw Watson on Jeapordy.  So I will posit that speech as a user
interface is basically mature and its growth is less a matter of better technology
and more a matter of adoption.

Go back to my device.
If you bought the thing without service it would cost US$500.  It can do a lot more than recognize and
respond to my speech, so I’ll make a guess that capability alone would cost US$100.   Throw in Moore’s Law, which posits that technology
doubles, or costs half, roughly every 24 months.   Now consider, would a consumer goods
manufacturer be willing to add 2 cents to the COGS for a can of beans (or
package of macaroni, or bottle of beverage) in order to add a meaningful speech
driven user interface?  I think so, if
the functionality were rich enough.  Like
explaining the product, making suggestions for what to buy along with it, or giving
preparation instructions.  How long would
it take to drive that US$100 cost down to 2 cents?   About 12 halvings meaning 24 years.   So in 2035 you might be having a conversation
with your can of beans.   Personally, I intend to live that long.

If the product cost $5 or $10 or more, then the manufacturer
might be willing to spend 10 cents for such functionality.   What might you talk about?  “Let’s walk through the preparation
instructions and tailor it to your tastes.”
“Hey, that drier was pretty hot.
If you keep doing that I am going to shrink and wear out faster.  Let me tell you some things about cotton.”  “I think you already took one of the pills
inside me earlier today, are you sure you want to open me again?”    You
might hear that in 20 years.

You can choose your own numbers and growth rates and calculate
years.  It is even more fun to speculate
about what the use cases might be, and how you
or your children might be interacting with your pantry some day.



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