MindBullets 20 Years


Spoogle puts the global brain in the palm of your hand

No, this is not another ad for some internet computer service. Unless you are a mega-corp, your personal computing budget has gone to zero with the launch of Spoogle, the new speech activated information system. It works with the latest smartphones from Sony Ericsson and Nokia Dell.

Remember those zany movies your father told you about, where people talked to the computer in their spaceship, home or office, and the computer answered, or changed course or turned down the lights? Well, now you just speak to Spoogle, and get the answers you need, send the mail, close the deal, or bill the client; oh, and service the car or book the meal of course.

But the best thing of all is – it’s free! Well, almost, but with every contract for a Zingo or goPod, you get a personal Spoogle account from Microsoft Google, removing the need for those old fashioned computers, software suites, browsers and e-mail accounts. Of course it recognizes your voice, so no-one else can pay your bills or watch your movie (or turn down your lights).

And the sponsorships pay for all the systems behind the service, so you get to talk and watch for free. Now if I could only get the family pet to listen to me. Maybe one of those RoboDogs isn’t such a bad idea…

(Read the full story in the detailed Analysis/Synthesis section – for subscribers only)

ANALYSIS >> SYNTHESIS: How this scenario came to be

As personal computing becomes more of a consumer utility and less of an enterprise-based infrastructure component, much of the value that is unlocked is released to the end-user, as suppliers of commodity items struggle to compete around service based offerings. An example of this trend was modems subsidised by Internet access contracts. Now modems are invariably built-in to every laptop, and PCs are discounted with an ISP package.

Cellular phones were very quickly commoditised and offered free with a new cellular contract. Now handsets compete on style and ‘cool’ features, but even the most cutting edge handsets are generally acquired from a service provider rather than the handset manufacturer, and thus are usually ‘free’.

Technology trends are moving what was previously considered office equipment or transaction processing systems into the realm of personal productivity tools. More and more PCs are in the form of laptops, notebooks, tablets, handhelds or similar devices. The Internet is the universal networking protocol and connectivity medium, and the ubiquitous ‘Office’ suite the common denominator for personal productivity. Google is the best known search tool.

As these platforms become increasingly standardised and mobile, utility computing becomes service based and hardware cost becomes negligible. The next generation of phones have more processing power than the first Pentium desktops, and more storage than a typical enterprise mainframe from 1980. Human interaction with computers becomes more natural as handwriting, speech and even gestures are recognised as valid input.

1988: Dragon Speech
Dragon Systems demonstrates a PC-based speech recognition system with an 8,000-word vocabulary. Users have to speak slowly and clearly. One. Word. At. A. Time.

1997: Continuous Speech
IBM introduces continuous speech recognition systems for general-purpose use. This allows PC users to dictate documents and issue menu commands with a reasonable degree of accuracy. Later versions of Microsoft Office include these features as standard.

2003: The demand for On-Demand
The computer industry saw the dawn of the mainframe era over 40 years ago, followed by the client-server era that ushered in an explosion of individual productivity with desktop computers. “Now, the current shift is toward maximizing networking computing resources in order to improve productivity across the enterprise as a whole. Customers understand the shift from client-server architecture to a distributed computing model delivered on-demand,” said IBM’s Sam Palmisano.

The positioning for on-demand computing services, utility-style, also reflects the IT industry’s profit margin shift to higher-value, value-added technology such as software and services as components of enterprise computing, as chips, hardware, desktop computers, and increasingly, even operating systems, become commodity items.

Echoing these sentiments, Bill Gates says that within the next decade hardware will be nearly free, as network services provide the computing power. Sun’s Schwartz agrees. “In our world, you will subscribe to the software and the hardware is free,” said President and Chief Operating Officer Jonathan Schwartz. “Directionally, our expectation is that in fiscal 2005 you’re going to see a rapid departure from selling hardware, software and services apart.”

HP tries the opposite approach. In reaching out to small business, HP’s Smart Office program offers bundled software and even a free hosted web page and e-mail – if you buy their hardware.

2004: Voice tools go mainstream
According to a Computerworld review, Microsoft’s new SpeechServer products are intended to bring speech technology to companies that lack huge IT budgets or employees with specialised speech or telephony skills. “We have taken standard Web programming techniques and developed tools that integrate into Visual Studio .Net,” says James Mastan, director of marketing in Microsoft’s SpeechServer product group. “You can add speech to your Web applications and program that the way you would any Web application.”

IBM’s Voice Server speech recognition engine, its Voice Application Access middleware (for adding voice portals into enterprise applications) and its Voice Response product (for interfacing with telephone networks) are all part of IBM’s WebSphere product line. “The developer of a speech application now has access to the same tooling, application interfaces and databases that the Web programmer has had for several years,” says Eugene Cox, director of mobile solutions for IBM pervasive computing. And because the products are based on open standards such as VoiceXML, he says, not all the components of the speech application have to come from IBM.

Meanwhile, many of Verizon’s back-office functions have been redesigned as Web services and are accessible by customers over the Web or by spoken request. The new system handles some 50,000 repair calls per day and has boosted the percentage of calls that are fully automated from 3 percent to 20 percent, thanks to the new speech application.

At the same time, peer-to-peer voice applications such as Skype migrate to the handheld platform, and the cost of broadband drops to $9.95 per month.

2006: Convergence of WiFi Phones, uPCs, VOIP>
The convergence of broadband phones, micro PCs, ‘hiptop’ and ‘handtop’ devices begins in earnest. This leads to a plethora of similar but different devices which ultimately all offer the user one primary set of functionality – the ability to make calls over standard wireless voice networks as well as IP networks, and access and process mail, internet information, documents and spreadsheets. Many of these devices also offer advanced media player capabilities, digital pictures, music, movies and games.

It becomes increasingly difficult for the average consumer to differentiate between entertainment, communication and computing specifications. Wireless access is automatically bundled with voice contracts, as many of the value added services such as mail and games are dependent on IP connectivity. Just as buzzwords like GSM, tri-band and GPRS were quickly forgotten once they became minimum standards, so too do consumers simply refer to these devices as smartphones; and use them for online banking, e-mail and basic business transactions, as well as phone calls and entertainment.

2008: Ask Jeeves, literally
Ask Jeeves experiments with voice interface. Users can simply connect over the internet and ask a question in ‘natural’ English. Results are varied, as many search results are not voice enabled, and have to be read on the phone display. This opens the door for other speech-based search engines. Voice XML progresses to the point where much of the standard information like weather reports, bank balances and stock prices can be transmitted on the fly to search users.

However, Ask Jeeves runs into trouble when people start saying things like “Help my son with his grades”; “Get me a date with the ACME receptionist”; “Please feed the dog”. Consumers, convinced by voice-print identification, are confused when the pleasant voice on the other end cannot respond to these requests! Several cases of ‘phone rage’ are reported, where smartphones have been trampled, smashed, or ‘drowned’. Other affective trends like “I Love My Smartphone” also emerge.

2010: Small Business Service Online
Microsoft re-brands its Small Business Server as a service, and provides all the functionality previously found in Exchange, SQL, Office and Great Plains Lite as an on-demand service on the web, only for small enterprises. XML integration with online banks has become a de facto standard, and online invoicing closes the loop, so that small businesses can get income statements and draft audit reports on a real-time basis. In the same way that office-bound clerks had desktops and road warriors used notebooks, now mobile professionals manage with smartphones and leave the services to the back office on the web.

In 2003 a senior PC architect from IBM stated that “Ten years from now, day-to-day computing won’t entail having verbal conversations with our PCs or writing novels on PDA devices, but it will make thinking about wireless connectivity a thing of the past. While the way we use notebook computers will evolve, what will remain constant is the effort to make our lives easier.” How right, but wrong he was! Four months later, a 12-year old Japanese girl wrote a book on a cellphone keypad. In 2010 IBM completes its Superhuman Speech Recognition project.

2012: Spoogle connects you for free
Microsoft Google launches Spoogle, the voice activated web resource for all your personal computing needs. Not only does this service give you intelligent answers to questions like “Where’s the nearest French restaurant?” or “What’s my current account balance?”, but Spoogle Premium subscribers can also get their in-home and soho networks connected for real utility requests like “Turn on the lights” or “Take an order”!

Warning: Hazardous thinking at work

Despite appearances to the contrary, Futureworld cannot and does not predict the future. Our Mindbullets scenarios are fictitious and designed purely to explore possible futures, challenge and stimulate strategic thinking. Use these at your own risk. Any reference to actual people, entities or events is entirely allegorical. Copyright Futureworld International Limited. Reproduction or distribution permitted only with recognition of Copyright and the inclusion of this disclaimer.