05 April 2016

Bye bye intelligent assistants; hello virtual friends

Tags:UX, Digital, Innovation

I drive a Holden Commodore, and though it’s supposedly fully voice-controlled, I can’t talk to it. It wants me to talk to it in a way that it’s defined to understand. So if, for example, I want it to navigate somewhere, I’m supposed to say, ‘Navigation’ plus the destination and post code, and wait for it to respond. Whereas now I can call on Google or Siri and say, ‘How do I get home?’ and it knows where I am and where my home is. Plus, it understands from the string of words I’ve said what it is I actually want. It’s a solution that’s much more appropriate – and natural – to me than the one my Australian car offers.

A change in direction

For a long time, we worked to make systems so we could interact with them. The trend is now that the systems are reacting to us . The flow is going the other way.

And these systems are getting cleverer and cleverer. Machines will be able to work with us in a way that’s more natural and, using Big Data, give us back results that are more meaningful to us. It means:

Indeed, Apple knows an awful lot about you and how you interact with its devices, and Siri is now attuned to that. And she’ll give you advice based on your request.


It’s interesting, isn’t it, that Microsoft and Apple gave their intelligent assistants names? Ever notice that when people relay stories about interacting with either Siri or Cortana, they’ll say, ‘I was talking to Siri’ (or Cortana), as though Siri’s a real person? It’s a softening of that line between machine and human. Apple’s even given Siri character. You can ask her silly questions: ask her to beatbox, or ask her, ‘How much wood would a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood?’ There’s no functional reason for those to be there, but they make it fun, and they make you want to interact with her again. It’s more natural – and entertaining. And if it’s fun to get the information, you’re more likely to act on it.

What’s more, the technology is only going to get better. Whether it’s Google, Microsoft, Apple, or Samsung, they’re all working on systems to better understand us. We’ll see systems like Cortana and Siri become more and more human, and they’ll go from being virtual assistants to being our virtual friends.

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