Last week, the Linux Foundation established a new open source industry association, the Open Voice Network (OVN). The new group is an independently managed fund of the Linux Foundation, with the goal of improving trust, choice, inclusiveness and openness in speech recognition technology.
While similar in some ways to Amazon’s Voice Interoperability Initiative, the OVN claims a primary focus on ethics. While Amazon’s efforts touch on user choice and freedom, its primary goal is significantly more limited than OVN’s: to provide “multiple, simultaneous voice services on the same product, each with its own wake word.” Amazon hasn’t said much about ethical restrictions or guidelines for those individual services, neither in its current mission statement nor in its 2019 press release announcing it.
The Open Voice Network is a neutral, not-for-profit industry association with some impressive names on its founders’ registry, including Target and Microsoft. The goal of OVN is not to develop the technology itself, but to deliver open, reliable and inclusive standards and guidelines for use.
OVN’s first press release goes into further detail, stating that the association will focus on these areas:
- Development of standards: research and recommendations for the global standards that enable user choice, inclusiveness and trust.
- Industry value and awareness: identifying and sharing conversational AI best practices that are both horizontal and specific to vertical industries, serving as a source of insight and value for speech support.
- Advocacy: Working with and through existing industry associations on relevant regulatory and legislative issues, including data privacy.
Membership in the Open Voice Network means that it supports its research, awareness and advocacy with direct resource contributions and active participation in its conferences and workshops.
Mike Dolan, senior VP and project manager at the Linux Foundation, says that “vote [command] is expected to be a primary interface to the digital world… it is already increasingly being used alongside smart speakers to incorporate applications in cars, smartphones and all kinds of home appliances.” He goes on to say that “the potential impact of [voice] is staggering, and we’re excited to bring it under the Linux Foundation’s open governance model.”
Joel Crabb, VP of Architecture at Target, describes Target as “constantly exploring and embracing new technologies,” including speech recognition, stating that “The Linux Foundation, with its role in advancing open source for all, is the perfect home for this initiative.” .”
Underlining the importance of the technology itself, Ali Dalloul, general manager of Microsoft Azure AI, says “speech is human” – and he goes on to say that “voice is quickly becoming the primary interaction modality between users and their devices and services at home.” and work.” (We’re not sure we agree that voice command de primary method of communication with devices and systems will come soon – or maybe someday, but it is certainly becoming more and more important.)
Founding OVN member and Schwarz Gruppe Chief Digital Officer Rolf Schumann points to the great need for ethical design and speech recognition standards: “Voice contains more information than a fingerprint and can contain data about a user’s emotional state or mental health. Therefore, it is paramount to put in place data protection standards to protect user privacy, this is the only way we can contribute to the future of speech.”
Sponsorship memberships of the Open Voice Network are available to companies in Platinum, Gold, and “Advocate” tiers at $100K, $50K, and $7.5K per year, respectively, with Platinum Sponsors serving on the OVN Steering Committee and the other two levels “represented” in the committee. Individuals and smaller businesses wanting to get involved can do so as Friends of the Open Voice Network – a commitment that requires volunteering and signing a charter, but no cash contributions.