May 12, 2020

“Elevator, take me to floor eight.”

As part of a new healthy workplace protocol when we return to offices and facilities, it may not be surprising if you’re asking a voice-controlled elevator device to navigate to your office.

COVID-19 has brought a variety of challenges for industries that traditionally congregate workers in office environments. While what the future workplace will look like is still unclear, voice-controlled devices and other methods may help us stay safe as alternatives to pressing communal buttons and touching workplace electronics needed to be productive throughout the day.

“Voice control technologies have been around for some time, and are already present in intelligent agents in our homes and in many systems as a way to improve interfaces between humans and devices,” notes IEEE Life Senior Member Raul Colcher. “It is only natural that they are now used to prevent physical contact and the spread of infections.”

Corporate offices have been slower to adopt these types of technologies for employees but IoT-connected, voice-controlled and automated devices with bluetooth and wireless local area network connectivity could prevent employees from physically interacting with high-touch buttons, appliances and hardware.

“A simple order – through the user’s voice or cell phone – will be translated into control signals and sent over the network to the device, which in turn, will execute the command,” explains IEEE Senior Member André Leon Gradvohl. “In the case of voice-controlled systems, programs that use artificial intelligence decode the voice and understand the command vocalized by the user, translating it into signals for the controlled device. Those artificial intelligence programs use machine learning algorithms to learn to interpret the orders received in the form of sound, and to transcode them into a command that the device answers.”

While IEEE Senior Member Kevin Curran agrees that voice control technology is a great next step to limiting transmission, he warns that voice authentication must also be implemented to protect employee and company privacy.

“The main barrier to any widespread adoption has been the problem of aural eavesdropping,” says Curran. “Quite simply, casual or malicious bystanders may overhear private information spoken by screen readers or users.”

Voice authentication is a biometric method that understands and recognizes the unique and individual sound of a speaker’s voice. This is often used with voice-controlled passwords to ensure privacy is aurally maintained — even if there is an eavesdropper around.

Voice control and IoT device technology is not new, but innovative ways to utilize the technology in corporate environments may provide us with valuable protection that we need when workforces come physically together again.

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