The voices get louder |

Language is the key to knowledge: why the spoken word is so necessary in knowledge management and how the supercomputer won the game show.

Humanity has a great deal of experience in recording and transmitting knowledge in writing. Sumerian cuneiform and Egyptian hieroglyphs were written over 5,000 years ago, long before Johannes Gutenberg made book printing appropriate for the masses in the 15th century and sparked a global media revolution. The fact that the daily bombardment of many people with several hundred emails a day is part of the daily work is a logical further development of the human attachment to writing. The spoken word is even less important in communication and knowledge sharing – but this imbalance could soon become a thing of the past.

More empathy possible
Because speaking and listening have advantages over plain text. A 2017 Yale University study found that people can most accurately communicate their feelings and internal states through voice – not only in relation to writing, but also compared to visual communication, for example through facial expressions. According to author Michael W. Kraus, pure voice communication is the most effective way to generate and transmit empathy to your partner. There has long been a rule in psychology that facial expressions can provide very reliable information about human emotions. Technology companies are also trying to take advantage of this, for example with facial recognition software that aims to gain access to people’s emotional level. However, in the recent past, researchers have increasingly criticized the stubborn focus on facial muscles, after all, facial expressions are also strongly influenced by cultural influences and, according to an article in Nature in 2020, can be interpreted differently depending on the context.
Since communication between people is ubiquitous in text messaging apps, we don’t see the other person’s face most of the time. In order to be able to express emotions more clearly, emoticons are commonly used, although according to a research article from the University of Ulm in Germany, accuracy also leaves much to be desired here.

The sound comes back
The fact that listening is growing again is also shown by the increasing use of podcasting over the years. According to last year’s forecast, there could be more than 500 million podcast listeners worldwide by 2024, almost a double compared to 2019. According to research, around a quarter of internet users will soon be listening to podcasts. After the first radio broadcast a hundred years ago – but the format was later taken over by television – soundtracks are back at the heart of the entertainment and media industry. Companies also rely more on sound as a medium, especially when it comes to imparting knowledge internally and externally.
The Austrian start-up Advice follows this trend and offers companies an application that makes it possible to more effectively share information with employees and customers in the form of voice messages. Founder Sophie Bolzer developed the foundations of a business model while she was still a student.

“The pressure was high and I started recording my own study notes and listening to them in the car. It brought a lot ”

Sophie Bolzer

You have a 30 percent chance of remembering information if you read it once. The second time it is 40 percent, if you repeat the information to yourself, it’s already 60 percent. If you listen to your own recording again, the figure is 80 percent, says Bolzer. In 2019, Audi introduces the first product to the market, aimed primarily at university professors. Firms that also show interest have quickly grown outside the university sector and focused more on corporate clients, according to the company’s website. The coronavirus pandemic fueled the boom in audio applications, and last year Advice secured funding from a European venture capital fund.

Too much information
“With speech, you realize that creating content is much faster and easier, and you have the ability to convey a lot of emotion and context with little effort. You can’t do that with text and the video production costs are just disproportionate, ”says Bolzer. In addition, people are often overwhelmed with too much information and stop being open after many hours in front of the screen. “We get feedback from our users about the situations in which they listen to the content. Rarely in front of the computer, but rather when they go for a walk, cook dinner, play sports or drive a car. It is the same with me with podcasts – most likely I will remember something when I can give a little attention – says the founder.
When it comes to knowledge management, companies often put a lot of time and energy into creating content that must always be up-to-date because otherwise the costs just wouldn’t add up, says Bolzer. Training for new employees would normally take place via telephones, which would have to be repeated continuously and would take a long time. With many employees working from home, communication is even more difficult to manage, which is why, according to Bolzer, many companies increasingly rely on audio content that can be consumed flexibly.

Other NLP
In the future, Bolzer wants to use Advice to focus more on a technology called Natural Language Processing – NLP for short – ie Natural Language Processing. It is a sub-field of artificial intelligence and deals with empowering computers to understand text and spoken words in a human-like manner, as defined by the American technology group IBM.

“In companies, employees share information and knowledge at all levels of the hierarchy. Much data can be assessed, not only in terms of usage, but also semantic factors, votes or stuffers. At the end of the day, you can use the model to say: Who are the experts on what topics? Where are the gaps in knowledge still in the company? Based on what we already know about a person, it is possible to create added value for the entire company ”

Sophie Bolzer

However, it is also necessary to ensure that employees do not become transparent people who could get the impression that every conversation is overheard, says the founder of Advice. Even data protection gives companies very clear rules.

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