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Voice AI—the Interface of the Future? (9 Things
to Know)

by Jaden Nethercott | March 6, 2018

Welcome to the Future

I know. It’s a phrase that has been used and abused a lot over the years, but it is pretty insane to look back and see how far we’ve come. It seems like yesterday that our computers were dinosaurs and it took an age to just to bring up a photo. In the year 2018, we have computers in our pockets, access to the world-wide-web almost anywhere in the world, and we can now talk to a black canister on our table to find out the forecast for the week or to play any song imaginable.

 

It's crazy futuristic. Something we have been dreaming about since before 2001 Space Odyssey's Hal 9000 and Blade Runner. While we still have a long way to go, before these voice assistants like Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant are truly integrated into our daily lives, we can't deny that we are headed into a pretty exciting future. 

1. Touch Screens vs. Voice

The Tech industry feels quite strongly that voice is what we’ll be mainly using to interact with our devices in the not too distant future. This can be seen with how heavily companies like Google and Amazon are investing in their AI services. But why should we change from a perfectly capable touch interface to something else? Because we found something better.

 

What’s cool about voice is how natural it is. Rather than having to pull an iPhone out of our pocket and pressing Cheetos covered fingers all over the glass screen, we now have the ability to have a conversation with our device. Our devices will also have the ability to start to remember us, our preferences, our voices. This will allow us to get things done faster and more conveniently than ever before—and don't worry about looking goofy talking to your phone on the bus, pretty soon everyone will.

5. You Might Be a Little Dissapointed

AI’s are incredibly cool and are going to change the way we doing things and interact with the world forever. Right now, there is a lot of hype surrounding artificial intelligence and how super helpful and useful it is to us right now, but, unfortunately, AI and voice interfaces have a long way to go—they are still very much in a fetal state.

The top features that these super crazy intelligent devices are used for are timers, playing music, news and weather. That’s basically a glorified, voice-first alarm clock. Not super exciting. So don’t be expecting Samantha from Her.

It’s definitely disappointing when we are being advertised a certain experience, but when we ask Alexa to play a specific song from that one band, she responds with “Sorry, I don’t know that one.” The products themselves that currently house these intelligent assistants are also a little disappointing when we have to scream across the room to get its attention because its microphone array doesn’t pick up the wake word. But, it shouldn’t take very long for those to get an improvement. For now, it’s a lot more likely that the black canister is going to collect dust than actually be of much use.

6. They can have a Hard Time Hearing You

One of the biggest set-backs for the current voice-AI experience is Natural Language Understanding (NLU). This is basically how the AI is able to pick up what you are saying, understand it and then respond correctly. This is an extremely difficult area for companies to perfect because of words like bow (as in a hair tie) and bow (as in bow and arrow). When we also take into consideration accents, other languages, sarcasm, and culture the problem of correct understanding becomes even more complex. With machine learning, overtime, the AI should be able to learn each and every one of these details, but that will take time.

7. Today they are Fake, but Tomorrow They Could be Real.

The AI of today, aren’t really AI. The majority of functions these personal assistants are able to do are programmed directly into the experience. This basically means that when we ask Google Assistant, “What’s the weather like today?”, its programmed to give us the weather for that day—no machine learning or artificial intelligence necessary. This programming disguised as intelligence is referred to as a Wizard of Oz. It’s basically faking the experience to make us think we are actually talking to a robot. With that said, companies are scrabbling to figure out how to use machine learning to help automate these tasks and then inject some intelligent aspects to their AI service. So we could say that personal assistants today are combinations of programming and bits of artificial intelligence.

3. Your Devices will know and Remember You.

With AI, we no longer have to do things manually. The whole idea of AI is that it’s a computer that learns over time, which means that the more we use the service the more it will get to know us and the more integrated it will become in our lives. As the AI starts to become our one place to get things done, the complexities of apps and web browsers will fall away.

Instead, we will simply just ask an AI to get us a ride to work and options for the fastest and cheapest options will appear for us to choose from. Rather than having to weed out all of the false workout and diet programs spread throughout the internet, we simply ask our AI to help us get in shape for summer and the best program that fits to our specific needs and preferences will appear. The age of traditional searching, researching, multitasking is over. Now we simply ask and our personalized AI will bring up the most relevant sources.

2. It will Make You a Queen

We are entering an age of radical convenience. We simply talk to a device or the air and we can get something almost instantly. Want to watch a cute kitten video? Just ask and a video of cute kittens will appear on the TV. Hungry? Ask it to order a pizza and in an hour there’s a pizza on the doorstep. Confused on what 4200 times 273 is? Just ask. With AI, we all get to be queens and with voice we get to demand it at any point, at any time. What's even crazier is that all of the things listed above, we can do right now with Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant. 

4. Brands will Fight to be Your First Choice.

As the world becomes more organized and simpler in the age of personal assistants, companies will be clamoring to get us not only into their product families, but to simply remember that they exist. With Voice, brands become a lot more invisible than ever before. Companies will no longer be able to clutter our spaces with graphic reminders of their services and instead will have to rely on what’s at the top of our mind.

If we are partial to a brand like Tide for laundry detergent, we will most likely gravitate towards that brand when asking our AI’s to reorder some. The AI will most likely log that brand as our preference and for the foreseeable future, when we ask for laundry detergent, the AI will always order our preferred Tide branded detergent. This makes it extremely difficult for alternative brands to get noticed.

In terms of product ecosystems, whichever company’s AI (such as Google or Amazon) we choose to engage with the most, the more locked-in we will be. The more locked-in we are, the more the AI is able to personalize itself to us and the more we will continue using it because it’s simply more convenient. Overtime, it will be very difficult for us to extract ourselves from an AI service, once we have been converted to it. This is why companies like Google and Amazon are currently doing everything in their power to get our loyalty now—to lock us in. So, pick wisely.

We Aren't There Yet...But Maybe Soon?

Images from GIPHY