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The Linux Foundation Tackles Safe Open Standards for AI Voice Assistants

By Jack M. Germain LinuxInsider ECT News Network
Jun 22, 2021 8:15 AM PT
Linux Foundation Open Voice Network for AI voice systems standards

The Linux Foundation on Tuesday announced the Open Voice Network, an open source association dedicated to advancing open standards that support the adoption of AI-enabled voice assistance systems.

Organizations are beginning to develop, design, and manage their own voice assistant systems that are independent of today's general-purpose voice platforms. The desire to manage the entirety of the user experience is driving this transition.

This control includes the sound of the voice, the sonic branding, and the content. The goal is to integrate voice assistance into multiple business processes and brand environments from the call center to the branch office and the store.

To achieve this goal organizations must protect the consumer and the proprietary data that flows through voice. The Open Voice Network will support this evolution by delivering standards and usage guidelines for voice assistant systems that are trustworthy, inclusive and open.

The role of the foundation in this process is to prioritize trust and interoperability in a voice-based digital future. Founding members of the Open Voice Network include Target, Schwarz Gruppe, Wegmans Food Markets, Microsoft, Veritone and Deutsche Telekom.

The Linux Foundation is a nonprofit organization enabling mass innovation through open source. The newly created Open Voice Network it sponsors is an open-source association dedicated to advancing open standards that support the adoption of AI-enabled voice assistance systems.

LF expects voice to be a primary digital interface going forward. Its technology will result in a hybrid ecosystem of general-purpose platforms and independent voice assistants that demand interoperability between conversational agents of different platforms and voice assistants.

The Open Voice Network is dedicated to supporting this transformation with industry guidance on the voice-specific protection of user privacy and data security.

Few industry groups exist yet to pursue voice assistant standards. One such group, however, is the W3C Voice Interaction Community, according to Jon Stine, executive director, of Open Voice Network.

"We are not aware of any other nonprofit industry associations with a comparable remit of standards, industry awareness (including ethical use guidelines), and advocacy," he told LinuxInsider.

Network Guidelines Set

Under LF's umbrella, the Open Voice Network is independently governed and funded. Governance is delivered through a steering committee comprised of senior executive representatives of the major sponsors, as well as the chair of the Open Voice Network's Technical Advisory Council, Stine, who provides day-to-day leadership explained. He is a former global sales and marketing executive for the Intel Corporation and Cisco Systems.

LF has effectively added dozens of open-source associations for a variety of technologies in recent years. The foundation has become the de facto driving force for all things open-source.

"The Linux Foundation does not have a push to open source everything. However, open-source software has become a pervasive component of any technology stack today. The Linux Foundation is in a unique position to provide a neutral home and governance model for communities building critical open technologies that users and organizations around the world rely on.

"Our core support programs for projects enable open collaboration projects to grow their contributor and user community which in aggregate across multiple technology and vertical industry segments becomes a massive innovation accelerator," Mike Dolan, senior vice president and general manager of projects at The Linux Foundation, told LinuxInsider.

Next Must-Have Tech

Voice is expected to be a primary interface to the digital world, connecting users to billions of sites, smart environments, and AI bots, according to Dolan. It is already increasingly being used beyond smart speakers to include applications in automobiles, smartphones, and home electronics devices of all types.

"Key to enabling enterprise adoption of these capabilities and consumer comfort and familiarity is the implementation of open standards," he said. "The potential impact of voice on industries including commerce, transportation, healthcare, and entertainment is staggering."

Target continuously explores and embraces new technologies that can help provide joyful, easy, and convenient experiences for its shoppers, added Joel Crabb, vice president for architecture at Target Corporation.

"We look forward to working with the Open Voice Network community to create global standards and share best practices that will enable businesses to accelerate innovation in this space and better serve consumers," he said. "The Linux Foundation, with its role in advancing open source for all, is the perfect home for this initiative."

To speak is human, and voice is rapidly becoming the primary interaction modality between users and their devices connecting to services at home and work, added Ali Dalloul, general manager of Microsoft Azure AI, Strategy & Commercialization.

"The more devices and services can interact openly and safely with one another, the more value we unlock for consumers and businesses across a wide spectrum of use cases, such as conversational AI for customer service and commerce," said Dalloul.

Seeking Standardized Ease of Use and Security

Open standards in the earliest days of the internet brought a uniform way to exchange information and connect with any site anywhere. The Open Voice Network will bring the same standardized ease of development and use to voice assistant systems and conversational agents. That will lead to major growth and value for businesses and consumers alike, according to Rolf Schumann, chief digital officer at Schwarz Gruppe.

Voice assistance depends upon technologies like automatic speech recognition (ASR), natural language processing (NLP), advanced dialog management (ADM), and machine learning (ML).

The Open Voice Network will initially be focused on the following areas:

  • Standards development: research and recommendations toward the global standards that will enable user choice, inclusivity, and trust.
  • Industry value and awareness: identification and sharing of conversational AI best practices that are both horizontal and specific to vertical industries, serving as the source of insight and value for voice assistance.
  • Advocacy: working with and through existing industry associations on relevant regulatory and legislative issues, including those of data privacy.

"Voice is transforming the relationships between brands and consumers," Schumann said. "Voice is changing the way we are interacting with our digital devices."

The voice includes more information than a fingerprint and can entail data about the emotional state or mental health of a user. Therefore, it is of utmost importance to put data protection standards in place to protect the user's privacy, he explained.

"This is the only way we will contribute to the future of voice," observed Schumann.

Self-regulation of synthetic voice content creation and use to protect the voice owner as well as establishing trust with the consumer is foundational, added Ryan Steelberg, president and co-founder of Veritone.

"Having an open network through Open Voice Network for education and global standards is the only way to keep pace with the rate of innovation and demand for influencer marketing," he said.


Jack M. Germain has been an ECT News Network reporter since 2003. His main areas of focus are enterprise IT, Linux and open-source technologies. He is an esteemed reviewer of Linux distros and other open-source software. In addition, Jack extensively covers business technology and privacy issues, as well as developments in e-commerce and consumer electronics. Email Jack.


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