In the movie Her, an invisible voice-assistant named Samantha not only reacts and anticipates the lead character’s wants and needs, but becomes intimately familiar with aspects of his life and loves based on the tone of his voice. Ahead of Mobile World Congress next week in Barcelona, Ford has announced it’s working on making voice recognition in cars equally attuned to drivers’ emotions.
“We’re well on the road to developing the empathetic car, which might tell you a joke to cheer you up, offer advice when you need it, remind you of birthdays and keep you alert on a long drive,” Fatima Vital, senior director of automotive marketing at Nuance Communications, explained in a statement from Ford. Nuance supplies the voice recognition (VR) technology for Ford’s Sync infotainment system as well as most other automakers.
Ford predicts that nearly 90 percent of all new vehicles will have VR onboard by 2022, and that cloud-based VR could be available on 75 percent of new cars by then. This would allow VR to “evolve into personal assistants,” according to Ford.
Ford’s Sync 3 system is already on the way to allowing drivers to connect to Amazon’s virtual assistant Alexa. And the automaker is working on a project with RWTH Aachen University that includes employing multiple microphones to enhance speech processing and block out external noise.
In the future, cars equipped with advanced microphones and augmented by cameras could analyze the voice as well as the facial expressions of a driver to offer up the perfect soundtrack during a stressful commute or fun road trip—or know when silence is golden. “The next step for the cars of tomorrow could be to pick up on tiny changes in our facial expression as well as modulations and inflections in our speaking voice,” Ford added.
In the movie Her, the lead character falls for his voice assistant at the risk of ruining human relationships. While it’s far-fetched to think that the same thing could happen with advanced automotive VR, “with new in-car systems that learn and adapt, we can expect some seriously strong relationships to form,” said Dominic Watt, a senior lecturer in the Department of Language and Linguistic Science at University of York, in a statement from Ford.
“The car will soon be our assistant, travel companion and sympathetic ear,” he added, “and you’ll be able to discuss everything and ask anything, to the point many of us might forget we’re even talking to a machine.”
Originally published by Forbes.com