Tuesday, March 18, 2008

What if phone could speak?

Lately I have been reading Alexander Manu's excellent book The Imagination Challenge: Strategic Foresight and Innovation in the Global Economy and I must say I like his idea to imagine what would happen is familiar things could speak - what would you ask from your toothbrush? To summarize the idea of the book: try to create strategic innovations that really change the way we live our lives and disrupt familiar patterns. As a contrast to strategic innovation Manu identifies tactical innovations that are merely about doing same things as before but only better. If you want to know more - and you really should - read the book.

So, let's try this method. What would you ask from your phone if it could speak? I'd like to make a very generic question: "Can you help me?". While I'm in the middle of a conversation with a friend I'd like to ask help from my phone, for example to get information about the local services. To make this service feel even more personal, I'd like to give my phone a name, "Jim" for example. Now we can imagine following discussion:

Me: "Let's have a dinner tonight, where could we go?"
Friend: "There is a new restaurant in Helsinki I'd like to visit, I think it's called FooBar."
Me: "OK, sounds great. Let's ask Jim if they have a table for us. Jim, Helsinki, FooBar."
Jim: "FooBar found. Do you want me to connect?"
Me: "Yes"
(FooBar joins the discussion)
FooBar: "FooBar, how can I help you?"
Friend: "We'd like to have a dinner tonight at 8 o'clock, do you have a table for two?"
FooBar: "Yes, that's OK. You are welcome."
Me: "Thank you"
(FooBar leaves the discussion)

So, what happened here? I took the opportunity to jump over the "innovation gap" which is the distance between what we have today and what we believe is possible. Here I assumed that phone could have speech recognition (I guess some phones already have that support, but is it available to 3rd party developers, don't know) and that can listen an ongoing call. If that was possible, teaching the speech recognition solution to find keywords ("Jim" in my example) should be fairly simple. Then the new solution could initiate a conference call to some voice guided search service and here you are, there is a bridge over the innovation gap and solution becomes possible. If you are located in US you might want to take a look at Google's solution (unfortunately only available in English at the US) and try to create this solution.

By the way: why Goog-411 is free, wouldn't it be just fine to have a premium priced number to collect some revenue from the users? Latest issue of Wired magazine has the answer: by letting the service run free Google will loose $144M revenue by 2012. But because the service is free, people will use the service now and Google can collect data from usage patterns, different voice accents and phrases. When they are ready, they can start selling ads to the service and that way the projected revenue from this service in 2012 becomes $2.5B. Nice.



Anonymous said...

This book was a great read... Alex is one of the most inspiring teachers I have had the pleasure of having. This book will get more and more relevant as things progress over the next few years... glad you liked it!!!

Harri Salminen said...

I agree that Alex is an inspiring person. I had a pleasure to see him giving a keynote speech some time ago and that surely was a great experience.