Over the past four years, readers have doubtlessly noticed quantum leaps in the quality of a wide range of everyday technologies. Most obviously, the speech-recognition functions on our smartphones work much better than they used to.
In fact, we are increasingly interacting with our computers by just talking to them, whether it’s Amazon’s Alexa, Apple’s Siri, Microsoft’s Cortana, or the many voice-responsive features of Google. Chinese search giant Baidu says customers have tripled their use of its speech interfaces in the past 18 months.
Machine translation and other forms of language processing have also become far more convincing. Google Translate now renders spoken sentences in one language into spoken sentences in another for 32 pairs of languages, while offering text translations for 103 tongues, including Cebuano, Igbo, and Zulu. Google’s Inbox app offers three replies for many incoming emails.