An AI that listens to what isn’t being said…


BY Nick Bozic

{Lead UI/UX Designer}

4 May 2017

Reading Time: 3 minutes

I enjoy predicting, and what’s more fun than predicting the future development of society and technology? Maybe predicting the score to an NBA game and putting money on it, but that’s for another time.

An interesting topic I’ve seen pop up a lot lately is “what will replace the smartphone?”, and that is a difficult question to answer, I mean, how long in the future are we talking? I believe eventually biotechnology will rule our society: physical augmentations, AR-enabled eyes, the whole nine yards. I don’t like to think too far ahead, that stuff won’t be around in my lifetime. Selfish, I know, but I like to predict things that will affect me!

I’m a big sci-fi junkie; movies and shows like Star Trek, Twilight Zone, Black Mirror, The Matrix, Primer, Bladerunner have always fascinated me. Even more so the technology in movies and shows give a great glimpse into the future. Flying cars in 2015 was a stretch but I’ll give Back To The Future II a pass. Although apparently self-driving cars are going underground now – that’s what Elon Musk reckons.

I’m going to make a bold prediction, in the near future (and I’m talking the next 10 years) we will be ruled by sound. Yes, you heard right, sound. I’m probably wrong but this will be fun to talk about.

I watched the movie “Her” a while ago starring Joaquin Phoenix, and I’m always reminded of it everytime I use Siri on my iPhone (which is not very often because she sucks). In the movie, technology has advanced to the point of artificially intelligent operating systems (so beyond Siri). Everyone wears their pants really high and walks around with wireless earbuds, the main way people interact with technology is just by talking. They still have smartphones but they’re rarely pulled out, only to watch a video or take a picture. The main thing here is this world isn’t filled with screens. What’s funny is, one of Joaquin’s biggest problems is that he continually has to use his finger to push his glasses back up his nose. (Glasses are horrible and no one wants to wear them if they don’t need to, never mind hipsters and google glasses). Anyway, Joaquin falls in love with the AI in his ear and it’s about our relationship with technology. It was a great movie.

Now, back to sound. For a voice to help us it needs to be intelligent, and for that we need AI. Intelligent and thinking AI, not like Siri. I like to think of my iPhone as my friend, it tells me things I don’t know, it entertains me and it’s my proxy for talking to people online. My friend is an electronic brick, the next logical advancement is giving it a voice, a personality, a presence. It’s the same logic as to why we have pets. Kind of. Maybe.

My prediction is in the near future everyone will have earbuds in all the time, they kind of do already. You will talk to your phone like it’s a real live assistant. You could be in a restaurant and say “Hey Steve” (my phone’s name will be Steve) “block out all the loud annoying people in here so I can only hear my wife speak, and tell the waiter to bring more jagerbombs”. You could be thinking about exercising, “Hey Steve, is my blood sugar at a good level for a hard run up Mount Lofty, and is Bruce going there for a run there too?”. “Hey steve, I’m getting some shut eye. Play me some waterfall noise and block out everything except for the baby crying.”

Amazingly, this sound technology already exists. It’s called Hear One by Doppler, they are earbuds that allow you audibly curate your environment. Do you want to hear someone louder? You can. You want to block out the train noise and hear just the person in front of you talk? You can. Do you want to listen to music while hearing 20% of environment volume? You can. This doesn’t sound far-fetched, does it? This is still augmented reality, even without the video.

The biggest obstacle is the development of the AI, getting the software up to a point where they can generate language naturally, learn and make decisions. To observe what you do, what you like and become the ultimate companion.

There are so many possibilities here. This won’t replace smartphones, but it will allow us to use them less and be more truly connected to the world. I see a bigger push for augmented sound in the near future, we are still very far from seamless video augmented reality.

I’ll say it again, no one likes wearing glasses if they don’t have to.

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Nick Bozic

Nick has a natural gift for visual design. He is particularly skilled in designing for mobile, having always been a keen tech user. He’s an easy going guy who loves to chat with clients…and is always ready to whip up a masterpiece.