“Wake Up, Computer”: The Promise of Intel’s Voice Command Technology for Computing, Security

By   ISBuzz Team
Writer , Information Security Buzz | Sep 21, 2014 05:04 pm PST

Intel, one of the world’s most respected semiconductor manufacturers, has announced a new line of microchips that will allow users to set specific voice commands as means of rousing their computers.

Laptops and tablets based on Intel’s new Core M chip will enable users to set any two- or three-word phrase as their computers’ wake-up code. Once awoken, the computers will function as responsive virtual assistants.

What’s unique about Intel’s “Smart Sound” technology, embedded in the Core M chip, is that it is always listening regardless of the computer’s status. As a result, users can use voice commands to awaken their computers even when they are in standby mode.

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Speech recognition technology has been in need of a step forward for a while now. Supporting that claim is the fact that Siri and Android’s Voice Actions, two of the most popular voice command platforms, can be cumbersome to use. Both technologies are initially activated only after the user has pressed a button, and once the features have been prompted to begin listening, users must issue commands in a loud, direct tone of voice, which detracts from the technologies’ “natural” feeling.

Even so, what is perhaps most frustrating about Siri and Android’s Voice Action for users is that these speech recognition platforms often fail to analyze voice commands. Regardless of brand, all voice command technologies send a compressed, digitized version of users’ speech to a library of known words and sentences stored on servers located thousands of miles away. This helps to explain why voice commands tend to be slow. Once the data arrives, the speech recognition program analyzes the arrangement of that particular statement’s phonemes, i.e. units of sound, in the context of what other phonemes surround it. In this manner, the program guesses at what was most likely said and uses this information to formulate a reply, which it then sent thousands of miles back to the user.

Given the inherent problems of cloud-based speech recognition technology, it is no small wonder that some users have filed lawsuits against Apple and Google, alleging that the companies misrepresented the performance of their voice command platforms to the public.

Intel’s “Smart Sound” technology solves these problems with a dedicated digital signal processor that is built directly into the microchip. The processor constantly listens for voice command, and as it is directly tied to the computer’s hardware, it instantly analyzes commands, leading to greater speed and efficiency of analysis.

Clearly, Intel’s new processors stand to revolutionize the way users interact with their computers. More than that, however, they could also open up new possibilities in the field of computer security. The “Smart Sound” technology can be programmed to respond to a particular voice, which, when coupled with an additional biometric feature such as facial recognition, could function as a security mechanism.

With any biometric means of authentication, there could be problems, however. The speech recognition platform allows for a certain degree of variation based upon the user’s voice. How flexible that range is remains to be seen. Laryngitis, a head cold, or even a modest degree of noise interference could potentially work against this new technology, rendering its analyses inconsistent. This could negate any security benefits the program has to offer.

These concerns aside, Intel’s new microchips hold much promise. Indeed, they could be the next step forward in making the user-computer relationship more intuitive, more secure, and more personal. They therefore demand our attention as 2014 begins to draw to a close.

David Bisson | @DMBisson

david_bissonBio: David is a graduate of Bard College, having received a B.A. in Political Studies. He is very interested in cybersecurity and completed his senior thesis on the U.S. military’s integration of cyber power. Currently, he works as the Editor for Information Security Buzz and the Media Coordinator at the Hannah Arendt Center for Politics and Humanities at Bard College. Going forward, David would like to leverage his extensive journalism experience as well as his interest in computer coding and social media to pursue a career in cyber security, both its practice and policy