Peter Engelshove – Conversational interfaces, a simple bot or maybe even a friend?
“Search for an Italian restaurant”, I loudly speak to my smartphone. The virtual assistant ‘Siri’ responds quickly: “All right take a look at this” and it shows a list of the closest Italian restaurants. The traditional conversations will be slowly replaced by the so-called ‘conversational interfaces’, whereby you as a user can talk with a ‘bot’. According to Sean Johnson, User Experience Designer, the world has changed from a world where people learnt to deal with computers to a world where computers have to deal with people (Johnson, 2014).
Are conversational interfaces a trend? I certainly think that they are a trend. Firstly, they change the norms and values of people. A while ago the computer period started with the command line, whereby users had to type very difficult codes to achieve a certain action. After this, the graphical user interface (GUI) arose. This interface was more visual and hereby users could achieve an action by just a few clicks. But now, the natural user interface (NUI) is emerging, whereby users can achieve actions on a very natural way. Examples of these interfaces are: hand gestures, voice control and conversational interfaces. These interfaces obviously change they way people are interacting. But conversational interfaces are also an added value for the society according to Johnson. Users are experiencing these interfaces much more personal than the traditional ones. Beside the virtual assistant or bot (for example Siri or Google Now) is always available for the user. Finally, users like that they can tell their personal information, while no one will get to know something (Johnson, 2014).
I think the conversational interfaces are a meso trend, because they are at the consumer level. The micro trends are for example, Apple’s virtual assistant Siri, the service Google Now or Amazon’s Echo. The Echo is a device that you can put in your living room, and it will respond to all of your questions. The mega trend which belongs to the conversational interface is ‘robots’. All kinds of robots are getting more and more engaged in to our daily routine. Conversational interfaces are quasi conversations with a bot.
Conversational interfaces are existing for a while now, at least you could see them in several science fiction movies from 2001 (Brownlee, 2016). However, since last year they are breaking through. This is because the technique is finally good enough, so that computers actually understand what people mean instead of just reading information. If you look at the ‘trend life cycle’, then the conversational interface is positioned at the ‘followers’ point. Conversational interfaces have existed for a while and apps which are using them have been downloaded more than 3 billion times.
This trend will only be successful if people understand how the conversational interfaces are working. Every interface is different, whereby some will work with speech, others with multiple choice options and there will be interfaces where you have to answer by typing. “If it takes you more time to work out what you can ask the assistant than to drag the meeting to a new slot on your calendar, you’re doing it wrong” (Evans, 2016). But conversational interfaces understand people and are learning from the data they will get from us. So the question remains: “will there still be need for a conversation with friends later, if you could do this also with your virtual assistant”?
Van der meer, L. (2016). Hoe de conversational interface de wereld op zijn kop gaat zetten. Retrieved 14 September, 2016, from https://www.frankwatching.com/archive/2016/09/06/hoe-de-conversational-interface-het-internet-op-zijn-kop-gaat-zetten/
Zelenko, M. (2016). The search for the killer bot. Retrieved 14 September, 2016, from http://www.theverge.com/2016/1/6/10718282/internet-bots-messaging-slack-facebook-m
Johnson, S. (2016). The conversational interface. Retrieved 14 September, 2016, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SvV57fuL_M0
Harry’s. (2015). The future of user interface. Retrieved 14 September, 2016, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iViiyjaaiyE
Brownlee, J. (2016). Conversational interfaces, explained. Retrieved 14 September, 2016, from https://www.fastcodesign.com/3058546/conversational-interfaces-explained
Evans, B. (2016). Chat bots, conversation and AI as an interface. Retrieved 14 September, 2016, from http://ben-evans.com/benedictevans/2016/3/30/chat-bots-conversation-and-ai-as-an-interface