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New  Edge  There was a time when talking to inanimate objects was a sure sign of mental instability. No longer—voice control and voice-based technologies have seen a tremendous gain in acceptance over the past five years, according to a new report recently released by Parks Associates.

In the report, entitled “Impact of Voice on Connected Consumer Markets,” Parks finds that at the end of 2016, 45% of U.S. broadband households used a voice-enabled personal assistant through an application or dedicated device.

Parks looks a three specific types of devices: intelligent personal assistants, software agents that performs tasks or services for an individual; smart speakers with personal assistants, which have an interface where the primary input and output are voice, and the intelligent personal assistant is embedded within the device or in the cloud; and smart home devices, which connect to the Internet and allow users to access, monitor, and control the devices as well as receive alerts.

Parks estimates that the average U.S. broadband household has 8.1 connected computing, entertainment, or mobile devices, plus another 2.1 smart home devices. Voice serves as a potential key interface across these devices. Certainly, the market is already here: over one-third of U.S. broadband households find it very appealing to use voice to control smart home devices (37%) or entertainment devices (34%).

What does the future hold? Parks believes that consumer interest and familiarity will drive the demand for voice-controlled products. Demographics plays a key role: millennials are embracing the new voice-enabled technologies, and technology developers are market to the younger generation.

It will be challenging: Parks feels that “as this market matures, consumers will expect their voice-based assistant to be more intelligent, proactive, and understanding than a search results page.”

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