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CES 2020 roundup: All the business tech news you need to know

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CES was more exciting than ever this year. Key topics included 5G, AI, IoT, robotics, Wi-Fi 6, edge computing, automation, blockchain, quantum computing, privacy, AR, and VR.

CES 2020: Biggest tech trends spotted for business pros
From analytics and AI to 5G and Wi-Fi 6, here’s all the enterprise tech that took center stage at CES 2020.

CES 2020, which started January 7 and ended January 10 in Las Vegas, is one of the leading technology events of the year. More than 4,500 companies from across the globe participated in the four-day event and introduced thousands of new, innovative products.

TechRepublic’s Bill Detwiler, Teena Maddox, Karen Roby, and Derek Poore reported from Las Vegas. Keep checking this article for all of our CES 2020 coverage, which includes photos of the best and the weirdest tech, interviews with industry experts, Bill Detwiler’s Cracking Open live demo from the CNET stage, and much more. We will update this article when new content about CES publishes.

Must-see CES 2020 photo galleries

CES 2020: A first glimpse at the tech of CES Unveiled
Everything from a flying gondola, sex tech and a $7,000 smart toilet were revealed at CES Unveiled this year.

Photos: Top 10 sleep tech products at CES 2020
Counting sheep is so last year. Conference vendors filled the show floor with sleep tech that will ensure you get your requisite eight hours.

Photos: The weird, the wacky and the cool tech of CES 2020
This year didn’t disappoint when it came to the unusual and the cool. Everything from robot cats, $10,000 smart toilets and talking garbage cans were spotted on the show floor.

Photos: Tech at CES 2020 that makes getting older easier
Health and wellness companies use radar to detect falls and hearing aid apps to isolate one voice in a crowd.

Photos: The 25 best products of CES 2020
There was truly something for everyone at this year’s CES in Las Vegas, whether you were looking for an electric SUV, a new smartwatch, a robot companion or simply a cool new gaming monitor.

Photos: The 10 best smart office products from CES 2020
Between smart cameras, intelligent apps, and ergonomic desks, these are the essential office products or business professionals.

Photos: The 13 most-fun tech finds at CES 2020
Yes, there were creepy robots and questionable (unnecessary) tech at CES 2020, but some pretty fun items were introduced. Here’s a quick look at our favorites.

SEE: CES 2020: The big trends for business (ZDNet/TechRepublic special feature)

Must-read CES 2020 articles

LG to unveil latest displays for airplanes and automobiles at CES 2020
LG is bringing OLED screens to homes, hotels, offices, autos, and jetliners.

CES 2020: Damon and BlackBerry QNX rev up for electric motorcycle release
CES 2020 attendees can “test drive” the Hypersport Pro superbike via virtual reality at BlackBerry’s booth, where riders can see features including CoPilot and Shift in action.

Renovo and BlackBerry QNX to unveil game-changing automotive data platform at CES 2020
This joint effort aims to improve the safety and reliability of in-vehicle systems on autonomous vehicles. Some of the platform’s features will be on display at CES 2020.

Charmin debuts a toilet paper robot and a bathroom smell sensor at CES 2020
Don’t squeeze the Charmin, but do check out the company’s three new futuristic concepts at CES: The RollBot, SmellSense, and V.I.Pee designed to make a smart home even better.

CES Unveiled: A sneak peek at the tech of CES 2020
Find out more about the coolest innovations from CES Unveiled, including a new smart thermometer from Whirlpool and a capsule cocktail maker.

IBM announces app at CES 2020 that tracks coffee bean from farm to cup
Consumers can use the “Thank My Farmer” app to track the origin of the beverage and support fair trade practices.

NVIDIA shows off autonomous tech for cards and robots at CES 2020
Gaming tech isn’t the only thing that NVIDIA is displaying at CES 2020: It’s also using graphics cards to power automated vehicles and AI-powered robots.

BlackBerry and AWS combine forces to create edge-to-cloud platform for automakers
Tech companies announce at CES that QNX will be the OS and Amazon’s IoT Services will provide connectivity for data collection and software updates.

New Chromebooks from Samsung, Asus, Lenovo on display at CES 2020
No matter what you need to do with a Chromebook, the models revealed at CES 2020 can help you get the job done.

D-Link unveils Wi-Fi 6 and mesh routers, 5G products, and mydlink cameras
The company’s latest solutions, featured at CES 2020, forge the path for interconnected, intelligent connections in smart homes.

CES 2020: The trends and tech business pros should care about
Enterprise technologies like AI, data analytics, and 5G underpin the latest IoT gadgets, smart devices, and autonomous vehicles and will be on full display at CES 2020.

Synaptics unveils edge computing video SoCs within an AI framework at CES 2020
New multimodal platform has “perceptive intelligence” for apps including smart displays and cameras, video soundbars and more, company says.

Comcast announces new Wi-Fi 6-certified gateway, security features for internet customers at CES 2020
Comcast is making its internet service faster and more secure with new hardware and free security features that alerts customers to threats.

ASUS releases new displays, gaming notebooks, and routers at CES 2020
The new systems aim to help professionals conduct business in a more productive, efficient manner.

5G, AI, edge, and partnerships discussed at Intel’s CES 2020 news conference
Better streaming, HD gaming, sporting event viewing, a folding PC, a thoughtful autonomous car, and expediting relief aid were on the dock at Intel’s CES 2020 presentation.

CES 2020: Smart homes get a boost with Wi-Fi 6
D-Link is unveiling new routers that enable faster speeds in Wi-Fi mesh systems.

Ford becomes first customer to incorporate Agility Robotics into factory
The car manufacturer debuts the first two robots off the line at CES 2020 and will use them to explore autonomous vehicle businesses, for warehousing and delivery.

IBM points Watson at the marketing world with Advertising Accelerator
CES 2020 announcement says this will make it easier for brands and marketers to use machine learning to optimize ads before they go live.

Human-focused tech drives Samsung with AI, 5G, and IoT solutions at CES 2020
At CES 2020, Samsung introduces Ballie, an empathetic AI robot which respects privacy and encourages fitness.

BlackBerry announces QNX integration with Cylance security systems at CES 2020
The new platform allows automakers and fleet managers to monitor security threats and the overall health of vehicles.

How AI and machine learning can detect changes in Mom’s routine
CES 2020: Learn about a new product to keep seniors in their homes longer using machine learning and IoT.

D-Link ramps up enterprise offerings with Nuclias Connect
At CES 2020, D-Link announced a solution to to Wi-Fi problems that plague small and midsize businesses.

New year, new Bluetooth: LE Audio adds support for hearing aids and shared listening
Announced at CES 2020, the next generation of Bluetooth audio will allow for high-quality listening at low data rates.

Hyundai Motor introduces urban mobility offerings for future cities
The car company shares its three-pronged vision at CES 2020 and says its products will form an ecosystem for transfers and community activities.

Google Assistant integrates with more smart devices, adds features
Updates announced at CES 2020 introduce more complex use cases for consumers along with a suggestion button, scheduled actions, and sticky notes.

GSMA’s biggest changes in the future of devices: 4 discoveries
At CES 2020, a report revealed how influential China and 5G are on the global tech landscape.

CES 2020: Products aim to make life neater for remote workers
ALOGIC unveiled a 3-in-1 product that includes a USB-C dock, a power bank, and a wireless charger.

Hyundai Motor and Uber release full-scale air taxi model at CES
Hyundai is the first Uber Elevate partner with manufacturing capabilities to mass produce Uber Air Taxis.

The 8 coolest robots spotted at CES 2020
The chuckle-inducing toilet paper robot and food-serving BellaBot aren’t the only smart machines causing a stir.

CES State of the Industry: Digital transformation requires partnerships and new priority list
CTA president announces World Bank challenge, Innovation Scorecard winners, and calls for federal guidelines to protect innovation.

CES 2020: Segway unveiling products to support smarter cities
Segway is zooming into the future with the S-Pod and self-balancing scooters.

Delta wants to personalize travel with “parallel reality” airport experience
CEO Ed Bastain announced new app features and partnerships at CES.

Ivanka Trump talks technology and the future of work at CES 2020
At CES 2020, Ivanka Trump joined the CTA on stage to discuss the future of work and the role of technology and STEM education.

Apple exec explains privacy protections while Facebook leader looks for loopholes
At CES 2020, Facebook privacy officer says new California law doesn’t apply because the company doesn’t sell data, only ads.

Delta, Anthem, and Los Alamos Lab join the IBM Quantum Computing Network
IBM announces at CES 2020 that more researchers, students, and entrepreneurs will get access to the IBM Q Cloud to develop use cases.

Predictive tech needs more of everything: Education, data, and regulation
CES 2020 panel discusses the risks and rewards of data-hungry tech ranging from smart home sensors to computer-brain interfaces.

CES 2020: Lenovo rolls out world’s first 5G laptop
Lenovo’s Yoga 5G is the world’s first PC capable of connecting to a 5G network.

10 gadgets business pros can’t live without
Not all gadgets at CES 2020 are weird and wacky. Here are 10 products sure to make professionals’ lives easier.

Ping-pong playing robot proves AI-driven machines can sense human emotion
At CES 2020, Omron is showcasing new AI technology that supports harmony between machines and people.

Samsung’s push into 5G for 2020 and beyond
How 5G will impact our world this year through mobile devices, and what we can expect to see in vehicles in the future.

8 monitors that business pros and gamers need
Dozens of companies showed off their latest display and monitor offerings at CES 2020.

Future of 5G: To mixed reality and beyond
At CES 2020, Qualcomm’s president says the next generation wireless network will enable more than just smartphone functionality.

What do millennials want (and expect to get) from work?
A CES 2020 panel looked into what drives younger professionals, and the answers won’t surprise you but find out why stereotypes exist.

CES 2020: McAfee discovers how hackers can break in through your garage door
McAfee uncovered a security flaw in a popular connected garage door opener and a security design issue in an NFC smart ring used to unlock doors.

3 things you don’t know about policies shaping AI
CES 2020 panel discusses regulation, workforce retraining, and artificial intelligence investments.

Protecting innovation and privacy and the role of government
Concerns about data privacy are growing and CES 2020 panel experts say legislation must come at the federal level.

CES 2020 car show features liquid crystal sun visors, EyeLocks, and smart LiDAR
Software and hardware companies are transforming cars from the inside out.

Renewable energy talk takes the stage at CES 2020
Panel says revolutionizing the world’s energy supply is critical to combat climate change and sustain humanity.

Daimler and IBM on how to build a better battery with quantum computing
Companies announce at CES 2020 that quantum chemistry may be the key to improving lithium-sulfur batteries.

CES 2020: How McAfee’s Just in Time debugger stops cybercriminals
How the Advanced Threat Research Team can stop hackers from stealing personal data from a wearable device.

Asus introduces the ROG Swift 360Hz G-Sync gaming monitor at CES 2020
This 24.5-inch gaming monitor has a native 360Hz refresh rate to reduce eye strain.

CES 2020: ASUS debuts new monitor, mesh Wi-Fi router and accessories
ASUS featured new tools for business pros at CES 2020.

6 Dutch startups at CES 2020 making cities cleaner and smarter
Companies are working on recycling water, multi-tasking lamp posts, and replacing diesel generators with rentable green batteries.

3 necessary components of successful smart cities
A panel at CES 2020 discussed how the crucial cooperation of certain teams creates the infrastructure needed for smart cities.

CES 2020: Neon is an ‘artificial human’ that Samsung wants to be your friend
Samsung’s STAR Labs unveiled a humanoid avatar that is intended to serve as a personal companion.

CES 2020: Google announces user milestone and looks to embed deeper into smart homes
Enhancements to Google Assistant include new scheduling capabilities and more natural sounding voice for reading long-form text.

The smart cities challenge: How tech will update antiquated infrastructures
A CES 2020 panel discussed how blending new tech into established, sometimes crumbling infrastructures, offers renewable solutions.

Sprint at CES 2020: All in on the Internet of Things
Sprint’s IoT announcements at CES 2020 center on smart city tech for businesses big and small.

IBM research director at CES 2020: We will hit the quantum advantage this decade
Q Network users are studying carbon chemistry, route optimization and risk analysis on IBM’s quantum computer.

It’s not me, it’s you: The pros and cons of breaking up big tech
A panel at CES 2020 debated the toxicity of big tech companies like Google, Facebook, Amazon, and Apple.

PATSCAN platform detects hidden weapons, chemicals, and bombs
At CES 2020, Patriot One Technologies explained its PATSCAN platform, which can detect hidden weapons and more without the perpetrator even knowing they’ve been scanned.

The 11 laptops you don’t want to miss from CES 2020
Companies like HP, Samsung, Lenovo, Acer and Dell used the show to market their latest laptop options.

Best of the best: Our 10 favorite CES 2020 Best of Innovation award winners
Ready for some cool tech in your life? These award-winners include items for safety, productivity, accessibility, and health.

How IBM uses blockchain to connect coffee drinkers and farmers
At CES 2020, IBM’s Jason Kelley explains how the Farmer Connect app allows consumers to have more trust in their coffee’s supply chain.

8 products to make your work life easier
CES 2020 had lots of ideas for faster Wi-Fi, more convenient meeting presentations, and blue-light glasses to ease jet lag.

Why big data may help you sleep better at night
At CES 2020, Sleep Number debuted its latest smart beds, which feature climate-controlled technology that gathers data while you snooze.

How Watson AI allows IBM’s Advertising Accelerator to do three key things
At CES 2020, IBM launched its Advertising Accelerator with Watson. IBM’s Dave Neway describes the benefits this solution offers to the advertising community.

CES 2020: Biggest tech trends spotted for business pros
From analytics and AI to 5G and Wi-Fi 6, here’s all the enterprise tech that took center stage at CES 2020.

CES 2020: Why HBO wants us to think twice about data privacy
A Westworld-themed experience gave attendees a creepy glimpse into tech consequences of the future.

IBM: 2020 is a tipping point for 5G
Steve Canepa, general manager of IBM’s Global Media and Entertainment Industry, said that 2020 will be the year that 5G reaches an inflection point and will roll out at scale.

IBM doubles quantum volume in the race for computing supremacy
Jamie Garcia, global lead for Quantum Applications, IBM Research, talks at CES 2020 about how IBM reached milestones in quantum computing in 2019.

Also see

samsung-galaxy-chromebook.jpg

The Samsung Galaxy Chromebook is one of the 25 best products at CES 2020, says TechRepublic’s Teena Maddox.

Image: Samsung



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Top gamers set to lead new generation of marketing stars, Tech News News & Top Stories

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LOS ANGELES • Hollywood talent agencies are wooing video-gaming stars like never before, betting that they can lead a new generation of celebrity endorsers for mainstream brands.

A few years ago, top agencies represented just a handful of players, but now they see an opportunity to turn them into household names.

As the gaming industry grows, players will develop projects for television, podcasts or animation, according to Mr Conor Beesemyer, an agent at William Morris Endeavor (WME), part of Endeavor Group Holdings.

“We’re going to see more and more gamers become the faces of brands,” Mr Beesemyer said, adding that the industry is attracting large advertisers not typically associated with popular titles such as Fortnite, PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds and Call Of Duty.

His company’s clients include Fortnite pro Nate Hill.

While many players are represented by small, gaming-specific agencies across the world, large businesses find it easier to strike advertising deals with top firms.

The four largest agencies – Creative Artists Agency (CAA), WME, United Talent Agency and ICM Partners – have been building up their gaming divisions for years, aiming to sign competitive e-sports athletes and streamers who play on major platforms such as Amazon’s Twitch or Google’s YouTube.

Earlier this month, video-game pro Ninja joined CAA, becoming one of several players to align with the firm this year.

His longstanding sponsorships with Adidas and Red Bull are examples of where the industry is headed over the next five to 10 years, according to Mr Morris Garrard, a research analyst at Futuresource Consulting.

“These are the kind of deals that become possible with the larger multi-industry agencies, as opposed to the e-sports-specific agencies,” Mr Garrard said.

All parties – gamers, advertisers and talent agencies – are eager to lock up higher-dollar deals.

Ninja’s multi-year deal to perform on Microsoft’s Mixer platform was negotiated by Loaded, a gaming-focused talent agency, and was worth more than US$20 million (S$27 million), CNN Business reported. He rejoined Twitch last month after Mixer shut down.

Forbes recently estimated that the top 10 highest-earning players collected more than US$120 million last year, much of it from endorsements and brand partnerships, though no single gaming star made the magazine’s top 100 list of celebrity earners.

Advertising within the gaming world itself still has plenty of room to grow, even before its most popular players blossom into globally recognisable celebrities like movie stars or major sports figures.

Streamers often focus on small deals that casually promote gaming products, such as headsets or chairs.

But it is not difficult to understand why big companies see an opportunity. The industry is growing fast, and its legions of young viewers are loyal and engaged with popular streamers or competitions for games such as Overwatch and League Of Legends.

Gaming already rivals professional sports and music in terms of the power of its stars, according to Mr David Freeman, co-head of digital at CAA, which has more than 35 clients in the industry.

“Having these massive audiences allows us to treat them and think of them as just talent – no different from other talent that we have in sports, music, TV and film,” he said.

“It’s a natural move for us to be doubling down our efforts over the last two to three years.”

The agencies have expanded into gaming in a few ways – by picking off major stars from smaller firms, allying with speciality outfits and sometimes even buying them.

“We’re just in the first few innings of how gaming and e-sports are really evolving globally,” Mr Freeman said. “So us planting a flag, and going big with who we believe are some of the best gamers in the world, is something that we strategically very much believe in.”

The smaller agencies do not necessarily view that as a threat.

According to Mr Ryan Morrison, founder of Evolved Talent Agency, three of his clients left for major agencies but came back within six months.

“There’s so much bureaucracy and red tape to an agency that size, and it slowed down the deal flow,” he said.

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Tesla Autopilot ‘Distant Second’ Consumer Reports

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More bad news for Tesla Autopilot system after Consumer Reports testing found it is ‘distant second’ to similar system from GM

American testing organisation Consumer Reports has delivered another knock for the Telsa Autopilot driver assistance system.

Consumer Reports evaluated 17 vehicles equipped with active driving assistance systems and it concluded that Tesla Autopilot (in a Tesla Model Y) finished “a distant second” to a Cadillac CT6 equipped with Super Cruise.

It comes after Tesla Autopilot was recently found to have been surpassed by rival driver systems from the likes of Mercedes, BMW, and Audi in research by European New Car Assessment Program (NCAP).

Distant second

“Even after two years, Cadillac’s Super Cruise remained our top-rated system because, when turned on, it uses direct driver monitoring to warn drivers that appear to have stopped paying attention to the road,” stated CR on Wednesday.

“General Motors told CR that Super Cruise will be on 22 GM vehicles by 2023,” it added. “Of the other systems we tested, we saw minor improvements in lane keeping performance for the Tesla and Volvo.”

“Systems that didn’t give clear warnings to the driver to pay attention, such as Volvo’s, or that failed to keep the vehicle within its lane, even on fairly straight roads, such as systems from Buick, Mazda, and Land Rover, didn’t fare well in our overall scoring,” CR stated.

“Even with new systems from many different automakers, Super Cruise still comes out on top due to the infrared camera ensuring the driver’s eyes are looking toward the roadway,” said Kelly Funkhouser, CR’s head of connected and automated vehicle testing.

The CR test found that the Cadillac scored 69 points out of a possible 100, while the Tesla scored 57.

The issue of driver assistance systems has been growing in importance after a number of fatal accidents in recent years.

Matters are also not helped with cases such as when a Canadian man in September was charged by Alberta police after he and his passenger slept in fully reclined seats (see above picture) whilst their Tesla drove along a highway in autonomous mode at speeds of more than 140kph (86mph).

Safety issues

It should be noted that Tesla’s Autopilot has also previously been criticised by the US National Transportation Safety Board for allowing drivers to turn their attention from the road.

American safety regulators have investigated 15 crashes since 2016 involving Tesla vehicles equipped with Autopilot.

In March last year, a US National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) report concluded that a fatal Tesla crash in March found that Autopilot was engaged for 10 seconds before the crash.

The roof of the Tesla Model X was sheared off and its 50-year-old driver was killed when the vehicle drove under the trailer of a semi truck that was crossing its path in March 2019.

Are we ready for ready for driverless transport?

That March incident had similarities to a May 2016 crash in which a Model S also drove under the trailer of a semi truck crossing its path. That crash found that autopilot had failed to detect the white trailer against a bright sky.

Autonomous driving

Yet despite these concerns, the battle over driver assistance systems and autonomous driving is heating up.

In July this year, Elon Musk said that Tesla is “very close” to achieving level 5 autonomous driving technology.

For those that don’t know, level 5 is the holy grail of autonomous driving technology, as level 5 vehicles will not require human intervention, and need for a human drivers is eliminated.

Indeed, it is said that level 5 cars won’t even have steering wheels or acceleration/braking pedals.

These cars will be free from geofencing, and will be able to drive anywhere, and do anything that normal car with a human driver can do.

Tesla cars currently operate at a level-two Autopilot, which requires the driver to remain alert and ready to act, with hands on the wheel.

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How Voice Control is Coming to Your Enterprise

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According to research from voicebot.ai, over 20% of UK households now have a smart speaker. Germany has 11% smart speaker penetration. Households in Ireland are nearing 10% while France trails at 7.4%. These figures contrast with Loup Ventures’ estimate that between 28% – 33% of US households have a device today. Voice control at work also looks set to massively expand over the next few years.

In Western Europe for IDC, Antonio Arantes, a senior research analyst for Smart Home devices, said last year: “Google had a stellar quarter and was the clear winner in the first quarter, reaching an important milestone in Europe. Google continues to expand to new countries and support new native languages at a faster pace than Amazon.

“This is also contributing to strengthening its position in voice assistant platforms. Google Assistant was present in 49.2% of all smart speakers sold in Europe in the first quarter of 2019. Meanwhile, Amazon faced supply issues, with the Amazon Echo Dot being out of stock in some countries for several weeks, leaving space for Google Home products to grow.”

Smart speaker household penetration by EU country.
Smart speaker household penetration by EU country. [Source: voicebot.ai]

The familiarity that the general public now has with voice assistants in their homes – and more importantly – on their smartphones, is a solid foundation onto which voice can enter the workplace.

Businesses are also increasing understanding of how conversational interfaces can deliver a new communications channel to their customers. Research from Capgemini concluded: “Our research found that over three-quarters of organizations (76%) have realized measurable benefits from voice and chat assistants. In addition, on average, 58% said that benefits met or exceeded expectations.”

“Conversational interfaces have helped organizations make more efficient use of human team members and generate efficiencies. ‘The time to resolve a query or give a response back has reduced drastically because it is automated at first level,’ says a senior executive from one of India’s large private sector banks. “And, with the increase in our customer base, there is obviously an increase in the number of queries we receive. However, we didn’t have to scale up our teams.’”

There is little doubt the use of voice assistants will grow exponentially over the next few years. Interestingly, whether voice will also become an essential business communications services that can enhance team collaboration and literally bring a new voice to how companies approach their communications tools on-site and, of course, for their remote teams.

James Poulter, CEO and Co-Founder of Vixen Labs.
James Poulter, CEO and Co-Founder of Vixen Labs.

Speaking to Silicon UK, James Poulter, CEO and Co-Founder of Vixen Labs – a leading strategy consultancy and app development studio for voice assistants and conversational AI, said: “We are seeing an increasing interest in deploying voice assistants and voice control into offices and workspaces in response to COVID-19. In particular, in clinical settings where the likes of apps like UMA is being used to detect occupancy of rooms and spaces and using voice and chatbots to book meeting rooms and desks.”

Voice control in the office

Voice assistants are just one manifestation of the revolution taking place in the office. Gartner predicts that, by 2023, 25% of employee interactions with applications will be via voice, up from under 3 percent in 2019. Although most chatbots and VAs are still text-based, AI-enabled speech-to-text and text-to-speech hosted services are improving rapidly. As a result, the deployment of voice-based solutions will grow. The interface to interact with their assistant is likely to be voice. Already SAP’s CoPilot allows voice interactions within their applications.

“We believe that the popularity of connected speakers in the home, such as the Amazon Echo, Apple HomePod, and Google Home, will increase pressure on businesses to enable similar devices in the workplace,” said Van Baker, vice president at Gartner. “While there are limitations on the actions that VPAs can perform, employees will readily expand the actions allowed as capabilities improve.”

Two years ago, Apple began working with Salesforce to integrate Siri into their services. “If you look at enterprise in general, voice has not been used as much as in consumer,” Apple CEO Tim Cook told Reuters in an interview. “We’re going to be able to provide the sales rep instant access to things using your voice instead of clicks and going through different apps. We’re changing the way people work, and that’s always been at the heart of what Apple is about – changing things for the better.” We have yet to see any announcement, but the tools are available with the SiriKit SDKs available today.

In the Microsoft camp, the company continues to expand the capabilities of Office 365. The Seattle giant, of course, does not have smart speaker hardware of its own. The Cortana skills kit for enterprise [https://docs.microsoft.com/en-us/cortana/enterprise/overview] has been available since last year, but we await any dedicated applications businesses can buy off-the-shelf.

A spokesperson from Aculab commented: “Convincing the business’s customers that the system will work for them and is managed in an ethical manner. Here “ethical” means not just keeping voice recordings private, but also not exploiting knowledge gained from them. Customers need to be assured that information given to a business that uses Google Duplex (for example) will not be logged by Google or used to influence options they are presented with for future purchases through Google Shopping. Even if stored data is anonymized, it can still be used for profiling and other purposes that may be deemed unethical by society at large. Even worse, given sufficient contextual information, it is possible to de-anonymize most such data.”

Give your business a voice

Businesses are already exploring how advanced AI, coupled with voice assistants on mobile devices, could be used in an office environment. The commercial real estate business JLL has created JiLL. Users can use voice or text to converse with the app and simplify time-consuming daily tasks such as setting up meetings, locating colleagues, looking up lunch menus or shuttle schedules, filing service requests, or finding a desk or conference room.

Built on Google Cloud, JiLL is the first product launched by JLL Labs, JLL’s in-house, a global network of software engineers and product experts developing innovative and commercially strategic proptech products.

“Consumers feel empowered in centrally managing their digital experiences at home and on the go. However, at work, simple tasks are siloed and can be frustrating,” said Vinay Goel, Chief Digital Product Officer, JLL. “JILL leverages JLL’s vast datasets about buildings, user interactions and transactions with physical spaces to provide a personalized and intelligent conversational interface that matches employees’ consumer experiences. Over time, we expect JILL to become an essential platform for hundreds of skills that help employees improve their daily productivity.”

At the end of last year, Google also announced their partnership with Suki, an AI-powered, voice-enabled digital assistant that lifts the administrative burden from doctors. Suki provides assistive, invisible support, and gets smarter with use, learning the doctor’s preferences to quickly and accurately complete administrative tasks, from clinical notes to retrieving patient lab results.

“Google’s AI and cloud offerings are already advancing innovative, new clinical solutions across the health care system,” said Punit Soni, founder, and CEO of Suki. “As a partner of Google Cloud, we hope to provide even greater value to enterprise health systems by improving clinical workflows, relieving physician burnout, and, most importantly, help more doctors in more specialties remain focused on delivering high-quality car.”

One of the most powerful aspects of voice communications is its ability to personalize these conversations. Businesses understand that personalizing how their customers interact with their website delivers a commercial advantage. Today, using audio can make even close connections with consumers, as they are already showing they value the audio channels businesses are developing.

Capgemini also commented in their report: “Consumers are becoming increasingly comfortable engaging with conversational assistants. Simultaneously, they are also developing clear expectations on where they want the bot to come in when they want the human to come in, and for what sort of queries. When they are used in the appropriate situation, voice and chat assistants have significant potential to transform the customer experience landscape.

“However, our research shows that many organizations do not have a mature approach to these technologies, lacking both customer centricity and organizational capabilities when it comes to deployment. As a result, they are missing the opportunity to build deeper, more valuable relationships with customers.”

More than half of global consumers say yes to personalization.
More than half of global consumers say yes to personalization. [Source: Capgemini]

Vixen Labs’ James Poulter explained: “The key to getting voice into your business strategy is to see it as an eco-system. While many of us are using our smart speakers more than ever, we use our voices on our mobile phones, in our cars, and on our headphones to get things done. We see voice as being a complement to existing digital channels, rather than trying to replace it. There are many small tasks, routines, and habits we can help our customers using their voice that they wouldn’t download an app or visit a website for. As more of us are searching for information with our voices, we need to make sure our businesses have optimized content to be the right answers for our customer’s needs.”

Voice control will become increasingly commonplace as businesses embrace how digital assistants can improve their workforces’ efficiency. The issue of noise in an office environment will need to be resolved. However, all enterprises now use a voice component to expand the collaboration tools, which should be part of how companies construct their new support mechanism as they navigate the post-COVID-19 business landscape.

Silicon in Focus

Cathal McGloin, CEO of conversational AI platform company, ServisBOT.

Cathal McGloin, CEO of conversational AI platform company, ServisBOT.
Cathal McGloin, CEO of conversational AI platform company, ServisBOT.

What is the current state of voice control/assistants in business settings?

“Spiceworks surveyed 500 North American businesses that use voice control and found that 46% use voice to text dictation, 24% use voice to manage calendars, 26% use voice controls within team collaboration, 14% use voice controls within customer service, and 13% use voice control for IT helpdesk tasks.

“In healthcare settings, voice-activated bots such as Aiva and Merit.ai are being used by clinical staff to manage appointments and reminders for outpatients. There are also some interesting uses of voice assistants within HR, including handling holiday requests, ordering office inventory, or scheduling conference rooms.

“As businesses add conversational capabilities to their mobile apps, via both voice and messaging, they can engage with customers using a digital assistant in a more convenient channel than traditional phone, email or live chat channels. Banking customers can already use voice biometrics to be authenticated to request the status of their account within their mobile banking app and use digital assistants to access their customer details. Bank of America is using Erica within its mobile app, for example.”

What are the key challenges when implementing voice control/assistants at work?

“Typically, office spaces are busy and noisy, making it difficult for a voice-activated device to differentiate the user’s voice from background noise so that they can understand requests. Spiceworks found that 23% of businesses found that voice assistants could not distinguish the user’s voice. As a result, voice control tends to be confined to quieter areas such as meeting rooms, the helpdesk, or delivery vans.

“Other use cases include inventory management in the supply room, such as asking a digital assistant to re-order printer paper. Unless the AI has been trained using highly diverse data samples, voice assistants will struggle to understand regional accents, leading to potential frustration for some users.”

How has COVID-19 impacted the use of voice control systems for businesses?

“In March, China Daily reported that a voice-controlled elevator system had been installed in Haidian hospital in Beijing so that employees and visitors can control the lift without touching any buttons. The system recognizes Mandarin and eight local dialects.

“Amazon’s Alexa for Business enables voice-activated control of AV conferencing systems and services, which offers hygiene benefits in the post-COVID-19 workplace by reducing the need for devices to be touched by multiple employees. Voice control offers obvious benefits as a contactless interface that helps reduce cross-contamination in communal areas and can play an important role in allaying employees’ fears about contracting Coronavirus as they return to their workplaces.”

Are voice assistants meeting the security and privacy concerns businesses will have to contend with to make widespread use of this technology?

“The best use cases for voice interfaces are those that do not risk capturing sensitive company data. Whatever the application of voice technology, security and privacy will be the IT department’s top concerns.

“Some applications have already been implemented by businesses, such as using voice to search for specific information in a report or file. When blended with biometrics, this offers interesting access control benefits and could also be used to support more diversity in the workplace, with information being filtered based on user permissions and presented in a format that is most appropriate to that employee’s needs.”

What does the future of voice in business look like?

“We see the future being a blend of the voice and text channels. Rather than looking at voice-only use cases for a business, there are broader opportunities to take a voice interaction and shift it to a messaging or text channel where appropriate. This blended approach helps overcome some of the barriers that businesses have around privacy and expand how technology can effectively engage with employees and customers.

“With continuing advancements in speech recognition, authentication, and AI, the technology will become better and more suitable to a broader range and more complex use cases. There is still plenty of room for improvement in this area.

“Voice control is set to expand in terms of the number of languages that can be handled. This will allow global brands to communicate with international employees and customers in a consistent and efficient manner. Verbal communication has many nuances and can be highly complex. Advances in machine learning will continue to improve how devices can understand, not just words, but also the emotions that are expressed, which could lead to innovative use cases in HR, healthcare and marketing.”


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