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How These Companies Are Accelerating the Future of Voice Technology

The chatter over the future of voice and natural language processing (NLP) technology is growing by the day. Developments at Amazon and startup AddStructure show that voice innovation is among the hottest areas in tech today.

Consumers have already voted with their wallets, demonstrating their interest in incorporating voice technology into their lives. In its fourth-quarter earnings call last month, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos said the e-commerce giant would “double down” on its Alexa-powered family of devices after results for 2017 “far exceeded” projections. Meanwhile, Google told TechCrunch in early January that it sold “more than one Google Home device every second since Google Home Mini started shipping in October.”

In addition, the Walker Sands 2017 Future of Retail Study, released in July 2017, showed that 19 percent of consumers had bought something using a voice assistant in the past year, and another 33 percent intended to purchase via voice in the year ahead. Among Millennials ages 26-35, those numbers were even higher; 37 percent reported shopping via voice “always” or often” and 43 percent had placed a voice-assisted purchase in the past year.

As voice-controlled devices promise to simplify many facets of life, consumers are quickly jumping on board.

Alexa, already a runaway hit from Amazon and the current leader in the voice-assistant space, is set to receive a fresh injection of talent and ideas as the search for up to 13 promising startups for the second annual Alexa Accelerator is currently underway. Amazon and partner Techstars, a network for tech entrepreneurs, are soliciting applications to the accelerator, with dollars for the venture coming from the Alexa Fund, which provides as much as $100 million in venture capital funding to foster innovation in voice technologies. During the 13-week accelerator program, participants can connect with leaders at Amazon and Techstars, and interact with the companies’ industry-leading technology products.

Meanwhile, another Techstars-related startup is making waves with the news that it’s been acquired by a private-equity-backed firm. BazaarVoice, known for its user-generated content largely around online ratings and reviews, bought AddStructure, a Chicago-based NLP startup that was among the inaugural cohort of the Target+Techstars Retail Accelerator, for an undisclosed sum.

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Incorporating AddStructure’s into the BazaarVoice Network of retail and shopping sites will make it easier for shoppers to search for relevant products by analyzing large amounts of consumer-generated content and distilling key themes and sentiment.

“As consumer behavior continues to evolve, brands and retailers must keep pace with new shopping trends and technologies to deliver engaging and consumer-friendly shopping experiences,” said Bazaarvoice CEO Gene Austin. “AddStructure’s advanced capabilities in natural language processing and machine learning are an incredible addition to our product portfolio.”