Voice User Interface: Definition & Technology

Instructor: Beth Hendricks

Beth holds a master's degree in integrated marketing communications, and has worked in journalism and marketing throughout her career.

What if you could ask a computer about the weather without ever touching a mouse or keyboard? With voice user interface, you can! In this lesson, we'll discuss how VUI works and some common places it's being used.

Hey, Siri!

Need to know what time your favorite restaurant opens? What about whether your local football team won their game last weekend? Or, maybe you're looking for something simpler, like what the weather will be like today. Sure, you could open a couple different smartphone applications or search for that information on Google. But, what about asking the question out loud and receiving an immediate answer - even if you're in the car by yourself?

The voice inside an Apple iPhone, known as Siri, is one example of a voice user interface.
voice user interface, apple, siri

Welcome to Siri's world. Siri is Apple's built-in ''personal assistant'' for the iPhone that enables users to speak voice commands in a natural language and receive audible answers back. But, Apple's not the only one making use of this technology. Google Now, Cortana, Alexa and a host of other helpers (a field that's growing larger all the time) can assist you with things like texting, making calls, playing music and more - all while speaking into your smartphone or another device.

Siri is one type of voice user interface, sometimes abbreviated VUI, that helps people communicate or interact with smartphones, computers, and other devices simply by using your voice. Amazon has recently stormed onto the market with their own VUI device, a speaker-looking device called the Echo with a virtual personal assistant called Alexa. Alexa listens to what you're saying and then responds with contextual responses. For example, you can say, ''Alexa, set an alarm for 6 a.m.'' or ''Alexa, wake me up at 6 in the morning,'' and you'll get your own personalized wake-up call.

But, what exactly is this technology - and how does it work?

Voice User Interface

Voice User Interface is a design function that allows for conversations between a human and some type of electronic device, and an answer using artificial intelligence (when a computer performs tasks typically reserved for humans). Today's VUI is so advanced you can do it without touching or even looking at the device you're interacting with! Pretty cool, right?

So, how does it work? When you speak to a machine equipped with a VUI model, several things happen:

1. Your speech is digitally encoded or converted.

2. What you've said or asked is routed through the internet, which communicates with a server loaded with language recognition tools. At the same time, your speech is also sent through a speech recognizer on your phone to interpret your question or command. (This is the difference between asking about movie times and asking your phone to play a song from your music library.)

3. Once your device understands whether it's a local command or something you need the internet for, it configures each word of what you've spoken to develop an understanding of what you meant. For example, your local device understands what it means to ''send a text to John,'' while a question like ''What will today's weather be like?'' is sent through a language database to decipher content and intent.

4. Whether it's local or internet-based, you get an answer almost immediately. (Or, if your speech has been ambiguous, you may get prompted for more information. For example, you say, ''send a text to John,'' but you have three Johns in your phone. The VUI may ask which John you were referring to.)

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