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The future of conversational interfaces

What can we expect to see with conversational interfaces in the future?
What we’ll see is probably a number of different assistants coming out. And that’s not necessarily platform-related. So you might have an assistant for shopping, you might have an assistant for music, you might have an assistant for collating personal artefacts, who knows. But they will all start to have specialisms. You may start to see a number of different assistants on the same device, whether that’s in your car, on your phone, in your house, on your computer. And I think that’s a really exciting time. I can understand the perceived risk. It’s a completely new technology. It’s a completely new modality. Most people are not used to talking to their TV, or their smart speakers, or whatever.
But it’s the same thing that happened with mobile. When we first had mobile introduced, we’d order a pizza on our phone, we’d pay for it, and then we’d call the shop to make sure that the order went through, because we didn’t trust it. We didn’t really think that it was actually going to happen. And so we’re in the same stage now. We’re in the early stages of people just trying to figure out what this technology does, what it’s capable for, how we use it. And then trust builds over time, providing the technology keeps on delivering on what people need. A lot of people don’t like talking to their devices.
And a lot people are really uncomfortable having devices that they can speak to or can listen to what they’re saying in their houses. And I think that’s perfectly justified. However- and I say there is a however- we do have mobile phones that can do this already. And I think, increasingly, it will move away from smart speakers. It’ll be in the car. And you can see there’s a good use case for that in the car. And I think the other thing that really will make a difference is television. The remote control is such an old-fashioned piece of technology. It’s really, really slow and cumbersome.
So of course when you can just speak to the television and say, give me “Outnumbered” or give me “Strictly Come Dancing,” people will start to see the benefits of voice beyond this kind of creepy device that sits in the corner and listens to everything we say, and captures all our data- of which some of those concerns are really valid. I’m not saying they’re not. These are really important concerns, and they all need to be addressed. What I find exciting is conversational interfaces, voice interfaces, become even more ubiquitous. The very first thing we need to do is to have access to it. You can’t use a voice assistant if you don’t have access to one.
And so that’s the very first thing that needs to happen. And that’s why, if you look at your likes of Amazon, they’re trying to put Alexa in absolutely everything, and put it absolutely everywhere. It’s not an accident that they’re putting Alexa into microwaves, and into rings, and glasses, and clocks, and things like that. It’s not an accident. They are showing the world and large manufacturers that, actually, you can put this technology absolutely anywhere. And so that’s the thing that we’re going to see. Over the next few years, we’re going to see access increase. Samsung have committed to putting Bixby in every single one of their devices by 2020. That’s washing machines, fridges, microwaves, phones, TVs, absolutely everything.
Google has acquired Fitbit. So now it’s going to have its assistant on everyone’s wrist while they’re running around. Everyone’s releasing earbuds- Apple, Google, Microsoft, Amazon- they’re all releasing earbuds. And then voice in the car- we’re seeing voice assistants in the car increasingly- Volvo, Volkswagen, Mercedes, BMW, Ford, Nissan, Chevrolet, every single one of them, all of their brand new cars are shipping with voice assistants in them. So that’s the first thing, is access to this technology is going to rapidly increase. The second thing is going to be user behaviour. User behaviour will advance. At the moment, people are playing music, setting timers, setting to-do lists, exploring the first-party- we call it the first-party capability of the assistants.
What will happen as soon as we begin to understand how to interact with these things, once we figure out what the right use cases are for various companies and brands, is people will start expecting or exploring more of this technology. There’s people now who have had Alexa for five years. It’s been out for five years. And so those people expect more from it. And that’s what we’ll see is, over time, user behaviour will start to expect and demand more from these devices. I get frustrated typing a text message, typing an email, because I know that there is a much faster way to do it. And so I dictate the vast majority of stuff.
It’s not going to be long before we’re just going to be able to do that for most of our communications, send a WhatsApp message to so-and-so and say this, send xyz a calendar appointment for next Friday at 9 o’clock, and include a Google hangout link in it. All of this kind of stuff just takes away all of the cognitive strain that we have from using our devices. But it takes user behaviour to do that. It takes a little bit of a shift in our mental model, a little bit of a shift in our confidence, to be able to delegate those kind of tasks to the assistant.
So that’s the second thing that’ll advance, I think, is user behaviour and willingness to experiment and trust. The third thing that needs to happen is that we need to be able to discover the capabilities that these assistants have to offer. I don’t know whether there is a taxi service in London that I can book on Alexa right now. And there’s no way of me knowing that. It’s very difficult to discover what the capabilities are. And so what I really like is what Samsung Bixby are doing.
So with Bixby they’re saying that, if someone wants a taxi, Bixby are just opening up the entire ecosystem to everyone, so that I don’t need to say, book an Uber, or book a Lyft, or book an Addison Lee, I just say, book a taxi. They will choose the most appropriate one, the best-performing one, the one that is in the best position to meet my needs at that time. And even with Samsung Bixby, they are allowing third-party brands or developers to create stuff that can replace some of the first-party functionality. So if you ask Alexa the weather, Alexa has first-party functionality that will read you the weather.
If you ask Bixby the weather, and BigSky has a capsule that’s better than the built-in native Bixby one, then BigSky will be used. And so they have a much more open approach to it all, which I think is really, really exciting to see. The last thing I think we’re going to see is people breaking away from these voice assistants. These voice assistants and smart speakers like Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant, the smart speakers that we have in our homes, they’re just training wheels. They’re training wheels to get confident and comfortable talking to our technology in the comfort of our own kitchen or living room.
But what will happen is, all of a sudden, we’re going to see voice assistants or voice interfaces on train ticket machines. We’re going to see them in reception counters. We’re going to see them absolutely everywhere. And by that point, we’ll be used to them. We’ll know how to use them. We’ll be comfortable using them. And so as access increases, not just to digital assistants but to voice interfaces, and user behaviour changes- and we get more confident- we’re going to start to see ubiquitous voice everywhere. That’s my dream anyway.

Our experts, Nicky Birch from the BBC and Kane Simms from VUX World, tell us what they are excited to see in the future.

You will hear their insights on how voice technologies are developing, both on an industry level and in terms of changes in user behaviour.

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Introduction to Conversational Interfaces

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