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by Dr. Colin Fincham
Published on October 30, 2018

I knew the world was changing, whilst sitting drinking coffee in my favorite coffee shop, when my ears were alerted to someone speaking but not in a totally conversational way, I turned around to see the orator dictating an SMS message into his phone. It was at that moment I realized that the way we interact with our technologies is moving on.

Although the type-writer had been around for some 150 years it was in 1868 that Christopher Latham Sholes developed and patented the QWERTY keyboard and for near on the next 150 years it has been our main contact with the scripted word. There have been various attempts over the last few decades to update how we interacted with technology from the introduction of the mouse and its patent in 1970, through to early attempts at hand writing recognition most notably the palm pilot, although others will have their own thoughts.

Human language and speech, however, has been around for over 100,000 years predating the written word by at least 90,000 years, it was therefore natural to look towards this approach to our interactions with technology. Indeed, like much of modern technology from mobile communicators to video conferencing, it was Star Trek and Captain Kirk who introduced the concept of ‘asking the computer’ in 1966, in the “The conscience of the king”. Since that time, this natural interaction has been the dream.

We have seen seismic shifts in education over the last few years. In the US with the introduction of the Common core standards in 2010, cursive handwriting was no longer a core requirement1, and amazingly in India the home of many a typing center even there typing tests are being phased out 2. Typing wasn’t quite dead yet, although not hardly recognizable to Mr Sholes, that of the smart phone communication was still holding its own. Any of us over a certain age have all received an SMS with an abbreviation or emoticon, usually from a younger contact, where we have scratched out heads as to its meaning but just watch a group of teenagers interacting with their devices and one cannot be amazed how quickly, their thumbs can work, when they want them too. Indeed the world’s fastest ‘texter’ exceeds 105 words per minute.3 Not far off the 145 wpm on a QWERTY keyboard.

With the reduction in computing costs, the increase in processor and network speeds and advances in machine learning natural speech is much more attuned to our ability to communicate, indeed the average audiobook recommended reading speed is 150-160 words per minute.4 It is unsurprising that we hear the words “Hey Siri”, “Hi Google” and “Hello Alexa” frequently, indeed in writing this very article I used voice search several times…albeit that I am still using a QWERTY keyboard to type it.

So what are businesses doing to keep up, Healthcare for instance, not known for its bleeding edge approach to computing technology, is recognizing the need, from the incorporation of voice recognition into the dictation systems used today by many doctors such as Lexacom Echo 5, to the embedding of voice technologies for ordering and note tacking using nuance® and Cerner’s Powerchart Touch®  Voice is becoming mainstream. 

When you are next with your nieces and nephews, or grandchildren, watch how they interact with technology – a swipe here, arm gesture there, voice commands all over the place. If we believe that the next generation heading towards the workplace will interact with the technology in the same way as we have done then we are sorely mistaken. This coming generation are will be the first ’keyboard-less generation’ since our great, great, great grandparents, they will look back and laugh at the clunky 104 keyed thing taking up space in front of them, as we sometimes do with the desk phone many offices still provide while we carry on our business on our mobiles over our coffee.

Be warned are you ready to address the change, because your employees and clients will expect it?




4 Williams, J. R. (1998). Guidelines for the use of multimedia in instruction, Proceedings of the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society 42nd Annual Meeting, 1447–1451