Voice First interaction
It’s only natural that our interactions are verbal and voice-activated. It’s been that way for thousands of years. Since the computer era has started, we’ve had to work out how to interact with computers. Going from the old days of having to use holes punched in card, moving on through tape and magnetic discs and moving further forward to using keyboards to communicate digitally. More than 98% of people probably still consider keyboards as the only way to communicate with computers. I’m seeing more people wanting to use speech to text software to get the data in. Voice first interaction is the way forward. When you’ve got great software like DragonDictate, then why would you want to use a keyboard to give yourself carpal tunnel syndrome. I can already use Dragon for Mac to control my computer to a certain extent. I use it to open applications and to close them. I have set up commands within some applications. I have an application called Day One, a journalling application. When I’m using this application, I can use the command “New Entry” and that’s exactly what will happen. Then I can dictate the entry. It is nice to sit back in my office chair, put my feet up on the desk and be completely relaxed while entering data. Dragon Dictation is super fast, being 3 to 4 times faster than typing. Now we will take it a stage further with the addition of Siri to the Mac as from macOS Sierra. We’ll be able to do the same sort of thing as we do with our iOS devices. Ask questions for information, give instructions like booking a table in a restaurant, ordering a taxi. Our desktop computers will have the access to artificial intelligence and a voice first interaction. Just because it’s on a desktop machine, it doesn’t mean we will be having conversations. At least not yet anyway, that’s the direction we are going in. The future is for voice first interaction communications with computers. Maybe in ten or twenty years time keyboards will be something we’ll laugh at and say how strange and funny it was we used to use those weird things. We will all have a digital assistant we can talk to and have conversations with. They may end up being our special friend as well as providing us with computer-based services of one sort or another.
Our special friend always with us!
There’s a movie called ‘Robot and Frank’ in which an elderly gentleman is given a robot and at first he doesn’t like it. After a while he gets used to the robot and has conversations with it and then involves the robot in his illegal activities. It turns out Frank is a retired jewel thief and he uses the robot to enjoy some of his glory days of stealing diamonds. The robot becomes his sidekick and helps him do things he wants to do, although it’s antisocial to an extent and just plain wrong. Within the movie there is a moral to the story. Will we have these sorts of artificial intelligence interactions and get moral guidance from Voice First computer systems?
We’ll get used to talking to our computers and our internet of things. In the past, some people were scared of talking on the telephone. There are still people scared of using computers. Hard to believe but true. In the future we’ll get past our awkwardness of talking to our computer devices. I know I’m more self-conscious of dictating using Siri when there are other people present than when I’m on my own. I quite like to show off with Siri. I ask Siri what the weather is going to be when I’m at work, customers want to know if it’s going to be sunny or not. Those I’m giving the information to in this way are usually quite impressed with how I gather it. Children have already got used to this idea of talking to machines, they are digital natives. Parents and teachers have observed kids talking to the intelligent assistant and having a conversation. So far as the limits of what they can do with Siri, Amazon or Cortana at this present time with techno chat. I could see it would comfort a lonely person to have an artificial intelligence to talk to. No judgment or arguments, just a back and forth of communication between human and AI. I suppose you can shout at it if you are having a grumpy day, but it won’t shout back. It might even have strategies to calm you down – “Calm down love, go and put the kettle on and let’s have a cup of tea, shall we?” Hopefully it will not sound too patronising or it would likely be thrown across the room and end up in a million pieces on the floor.
Artificial intelligences talking to each other
This phenomenon has already been tested where device owners have got Siri to talk to the Amazon Echo. The conversation doesn’t go back and forth to many times, but there is interaction between one bot and another! Now, these sort of things are done for curiosity and humour. Will this inter-device communication will work in real life eventually? How will the competing technologies get on with each other? Will it be possible for these voice assistants to use machine learning to identify if they’re talking to another robot or to a human being? We may have to tell these interactive voice assistants to shut the hell up. “Please be quiet robot so I can get on with what I’m doing with no interference from you”.
Taught by our artificial intelligent friend
When I ask Siri questions that are too difficult for it at the moment it only sends me to a webpage with more information. There will come a time when I can ask my special friend to tell me about something and I’ll get a proper answer. It is already possible to do this to an extent with the Amazon Echo and Alexa. This whole area of Voice First Interaction is still in its infancy. There is a long way to go before we’ll get something that works as well as we would like it to. In the future our children will have an intelligent artificial special friend who will follow us from birth onwards. Children will get as much learning, information and help from the robot as they do from their parents and teachers. Maybe even more in some cases.
Voice assistants – Do we have to have a winner?
There are competing technologies in this space. Google Home, Apple’s Siri, Microsoft’s Cortana, Viv AI from the people who were originally working with Siri, as well as technologies and companies as yet unheard of. Competition like this is what we want to give us an arms race of digital voice assistants. As each of these companies each try to outdo the other the products keep getting better for the consumers. It is possible that in the end it won’t really matter which hardware or software we have. The job will get done sufficiently well by whichever one you use. Money will be involved in time during this process. These systems and services will have to monetise. I hope it will be with a one-off easy payment and none of this having to pay monthly to get the service we want.
What about the security and privacy?
To get our Voice First interaction with our digital assistants we will have two configure them to listen to us at all times. The computers will only be able to listen to us and serve us if the microphones are always switched on. It might be a good idea to not have these microphones enabled in the bedroom! Each of these companies will have to give us promises with regards our security and privacy. Apple will go down the route of differential privacy. Other companies will use other methods of anonymising our data. I expect there will be a proportion of society who will never ever use voice-based services. Whatever promises given will not be enough to calm those paranoid minds. I would like to use this sort of technology. So I would think along the lines of allowing my voice data to be used to give me the services. If in time my trust in the company providing the services breaks, then I would stop using it. Hopefully it wouldn’t be too late by that time!
Machine learning – Voice First Interaction
In the past we have experienced making phone calls to companies when the unintelligent voice system could not understand us. You have to try endless repetitions because the system doesn’t remember what you’ve said already. The system is not clever enough to work out what you might want instead. It gets even worse when the system is poorly designed and we end up in a loop. It’s at times like this when we pull our hair out and just give up. We really need is for the computer systems to have machine learning. Have the computer remember what it was you said before and work out probabilities of what you really want to ask. There may even come a time when we can expect these digital voice assistants to interpret our voice inflections. Assess our frame of mind and mood. Maybe if cameras are used, it could also take inferences from our body language. I’m not sure that many people would be too keen on having cameras trained upon them all the time. It depends upon who has access to whatever is recorded and the security of those recordings. It will be a balancing act between the perceived benefits of talking to our computers and whatever downsides there might be. People behave differently when they think they being observed. How 1984 Big Brother could it get and will there be ‘Thought Police’ in the future. There will be checks and balances plus choices to make on how it works in our lives. Just like we choose how much to tell Facebook or other social networks. Voice first interaction is coming. The best way to operate our computer will be voice first interaction. Tell your artificial intelligent assistant what you want to have happen. Allow the artificial intelligence to help you make it happen according to your wishes and best interests.