How voice technology is an alternative to touching your keyboard

Sep 29, 2020

Did you know that your keyboard is filthy? Not YOUR keyboard in particular, but everyone’s? We touch our computer keyboards, tablets and phones all the time, and yet it is rare that we think about cleaning them.

A study in the US has found that the typical computer mouse carries up to 1,600 bacteria per square inch, and found similar numbers on keyboards and phone screens. Even more disturbingly, a University of Arizona research group discovered that the average desktop keyboard may carry up to 400 times more bacteria than the average toilet seat…and I’ll bet you touch your keyboard far more often than you do your toilet!

With the recent global outbreak of COVID-19, personal hygiene, disinfecting and good hand washing practices have never been more important, and more prominent. The vital importance of washing or sanitizing your hands regularly is everywhere at the moment, and with this greater appreciation for maintaining clean personal environments comes greater scrutiny about the cleanliness of the things you touch regularly. 

However, people who work with computers, word processors and smartphones on a regular basis don’t have to panic just yet. Innovations in technology can provide solutions in a whole range of ways that mean you can avoid touching almost everything, from phones and keyboards to light switches and HiFis. 

Voice technology has come on in leaps and bounds over the last few years. The combination of the gadgets and devices of the Internet of Things (IoT), Artificial Intelligence (AI) and user experience (UX) design has changed the way we are able to interact with the world around us, and can make a huge difference for anyone who is looking to minimize contact with screens and keyboards. Read on to discover a few ways that voice technology can help you avoid touching your screen or keyboard…at least until you’ve had a chance to clean them!

Smartphone voice assistants

Almost every smartphone these days comes with a voice assistant of some sort. Whether it’s Siri on your iPhone, Google Assistant on your Android or Cortana on your Microsoft phone, chances are you’ve used it to call a contact, or get the time or the weather when you are feeling lazy. However voice technology has come a long way, and these voice assistants can do far more than you might expect. Voice assistants can replace the need to use search engines, make calls, add diary entries and even order pizza! The best thing about them is due to their AI the more you use them the better and more efficient they become, as they learn from their mistakes. 

Smart home devices

Both Amazon’s Alexa and Google’s Google Home have revolutionized the idea of the smart home, and make it simple to control a mind-boggling array of functions in your home from the comfort of your bed or sofa. Smart home voice tech can control light switches, A/C, music and temperature, as well as removing the need to use your phone or computer to search for information, transport schedules, weather forecasts…and yes, again, they can even order your takeout!

Beyond home comforts, household AI has begun to branch out into more complex areas. Alexa can answer basic health queries and describe the simple treatment procedures as well as drug effects, as well as offering answers to a range of financial and economic queries. Going even further, Kaléo’s AUVI-Q is an epinephrine auto-injector featuring voice commands for administering the drug to patients with an allergic reaction, allowing even treatment to potentially become hands-off.

Voice-to-text software 

Voice-to-text software is speech recognition technology that turns spoken words into written words. Voice-to-text software has been around for years, but many people’s experiences of early versions were buggy and inaccurate. The surge in the sophistication of voice technology has made these concerns a thing of the past, and various programs allow you to get your thoughts onto the screen faster than you can type and, crucially, without touching your keyboard. 

If you work with Google Docs, Google’s Voice Typing tool is already available, for free, and lets you type, edit and format your documents to a surprisingly large and accurate degree. All Apple devices come with Apple Dictation, which allows you to dictate notes, and Apple Enhanced Dictation, which enables longer form dictation and document formatting. For the Microsoft suite of applications, Microsoft Dictate is a powerful add-in for Powerpoint, Outlook and Word that enables full control of every aspect of your documents. It even includes a built-in real time translation function that will translate your words as you speak them into text on the page.

Virtual reality

For many in tech the future of typing doesn’t involve a keyboard, and doesn’t even involve speech recognition. Virtual reality can fundamentally change the way that humans interact with machines and computers, and a number of VR user interactions, where a virtual keyboard is manipulated merely by ‘looking’ at the correct keys, are in development. This technology uses sophisticated algorithms and machine learning to discern the most common letter combinations, and has the potential to speed up word processing enormously, as well as removing the need for both keyboards and screens. This technology remains in the realms of the future for now, but with the speed of innovation it can’t be long until it becomes perfectly normal to see someone lying on a comfortable sofa, gazing at the ceiling, and using an eye-tracker to compose an email or write a novel.

Technology like voice-recognition software and smart home devices has the potential to remove much of the need to touch things like screens and keyboards, and could play a significant role in these difficult times where hygiene has never been more important.

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