Voice interactive technologies and the landscape of companies driving new innovation are evolving rapidly. What was largely a smart speaker market a couple of years ago has, as predicted, begun shifting in all directions to other devices and applications. Voice is emerging as a widespread user interface heading towards ubiquity and the AI-based assistants represent a new platform that is reinventing how consumers and enterprises interact with digital technologies. This means we have multiple macro technology trends moving in concert. That dynamism leads to shifting focus from year-to-year.
The year 2020 has been anything but normal. Old assumptions about daily life, work, and consumer expectations have shifted. One thing you could count on, however, was the tech giants leaning in on voice assistant technology. Amazon, Apple, Google, and Siri all introduced important updates and continue to lure consumers to their assistants. Microsoft stepped back a bit but seems to be reorganizing around a white label solution that is sure to be widely adopted. I am confident Facebook will also make an appearance on this list in 2021 but they aren’t there just yet.
However, the bigger story this year is the rise of the independents. Even while the tech giants expand their reach, companies such as Deepgram, Open AI, Pryon, Rasa, Sensory, SingularityNET, Stanford University, and others are pushing out innovative technology architectures while end users ranging from Deutsche Telekom and Comcast to Mercedes, BBC, and Mayo Clinic are showing how voice AI is being incorporated into everyday life.
Voice assistants represent a new computing platform and their long-term impact is still unclear. The people on today’s list are shaping that future. Read on to learn more about 68 voice AI industry catalysts that have laid the foundation for an important new phase in technology adoption. We once again present to you the people in the vanguard of the voice assistant era.
We arrived at our initial list of candidates using a number of methods. First, we included in a survey of voice professionals a question about who they thought were leaders in the industry. We supplemented this with last year’s list and an open call for submissions which we published on the Voicebot.ai website. That was followed by adding suggestions from our panel of judges and individuals that had received coverage in past Voicebot news stories. We also analyzed social media activity for one of the categories (you might be able to guess which one). The judges then scored each individual based on a number of factors and they were segmented into our leadership categories. Hundreds of candidates were on our initial list and around 250 were evaluated and scored. The list was finalized and the Voicebot team took on the large task of compiling summaries and images for each of the honorees so the list is a surprise when it is revealed.
Our policy is that no one working for Voicebot is eligible for consideration. Last year we excluded judges as well from consideration, but we broke that rule this year as Katherine Prescott received so many votes it didn’t seem right to hold back the recognition by her peers. Similar to 2019, there were some close calls, ties, and other factors that needed to be weighed to arrive at our final list. The process was executed thoughtfully with the simple goal of providing a compelling representation of industry leadership and impact. There will no doubt be disagreement about who did and didn’t make the list and the order they are presented. Some readers may even suggest we miscategorized a few of the honorees. All criticism is welcome. There is always next year and we intend to get better every time we set out to recognize our industry peers.
ABOUT // Zohaib is the CEO of Resemble and oversees the tech development. He previously led engineering teams at Magic Leap, Deepen AI, Hipmunk, and BlackBerry. At Hipmunk, he was the lead engineer of the first AI assistant for travel built using modern NLP techniques. (Patent on Automatic conversation analysis and participation). Zohaib graduated from University of Toronto with a degree in computer science.
ABOUT // Jochen Emig is the founder and CEO of ONSEI GmbH, an agency that consults on, builds and maintains conversational interfaces for companies such as Allianz, BMW, SHARENOW, Red Bull, Edeka and Deutsche Telekom. Prior to starting ONSEI in Berlin, Germany, Jochen worked as a developer and technical lead at startups in Japan, Singapore and the US. He holds degrees from Western Michigan & Harvard University and is a one of 40 Google Developer Expert for Google Assistant world wide.
ABOUT // Maarten Lens-FitzGerald is a conversational AI evangelist & executive consultant. He is a leading new media veteran who helps smart and leading companies onboard the new conversational channel. From conversational – strategy, to discovery, launch and scaling of marketing, customer service and product extensions, he has built a track record with national and international brands. He is the founder of Project Zilver, which works to empower older adults with speech technology and the initiator of the Voice Commons and an ambassador and community lead at Open Voice Network, the industry standards body.
ABOUT // Arte Merritt is an entrepreneur in the conversational AI space. A frequent author and speaker on conversational interfaces and data insights, he was co-founder and former CEO of Dashbot. Previously he co-founded Motally, a mobile analytics company he sold to Nokia. Arte has more than 20 years experience in big data analytics. In addition, he co-launched two startup accelerator programs (Turner Broadcasting’s MediaCamp and MobileMonday’s Momentum) and is a mentor in several others. Arte is an MIT alumnus.
ABOUT // Brielle Nickoloff is product manager at conversational app designer Botmock and co-host of the Language & Linguistics #Voicelunch Chapter. She serves as a mentor for ADPList and is a Google Developer Groups (GDG) Woman Techmakers Ambassador
ABOUT // Katherine Prescott is the Founder & Editor of VoiceBrew, a digital media company focused on helping people get the most out of Alexa. Launched less than 2 years ago, VoiceBrew’s email newsletter is read by over 9,000+ daily Alexa super users. Prior to launching VoiceBrew, Katherine was Senior Vice President and Head of Corporate Strategy at a global alternative investment firm where she spent eight years. She graduated from Harvard College in 2009.
ABOUT // Ben Sauer is a product and design leader, formerly of Babylon Health and Clearleft. He’s worked with organisations like the BBC, Pearson, Tesco, and TCS to raise their product game.He’s been speaking and training people all around the world, with a focus on voice UI for several years; particularly in how to rapidly design conversational experiences. Teams at Amazon and the BBC use his methods, and through O’Reilly, he’s trained folks at NASA. He’s also spent many hours at home removing the ridiculous things that his kids have added to Alexa’s shopping list.
ABOUT // Eric has been a professional writer and editor for more than a dozen years, specializing in the stories of how science and technology intersect with business and society. Eric is based in New York City and is a staff writer at Voicebot.ai as well as producer of the Voicebot Podcast.