Awkward Technologies – My Issue With Voice-Controlled Bots

I tend to be quite awkward when it comes to socializing. I never know how should I greet someone or what should I say or not say, and that gets me pretty nervous. Luckily for me, technology, over the time, has made human interactions more distant and clear and less awkward. However, with the rise of bots and AI, I sense interactions are becoming awkward again.

The Rise Of The Bots

Unless you lived under a rock for the passed few years, you’ve probably heard about bots. Bots are softwares that run automated tasks and are generally used for us to have simpler lives. Bots that are activated through chat are called “Chatbots”, and they are becoming really popular these days. Searching Google for “how many bots are there?” didn’t quite answer my question, but believe me, there are a lot of bots out there.

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The Importance Of Bots

Bots are super useful. They can help us book a table at a restaurant, set an alarm clock, find GIFs online and much more. They take a task, that would take us between a few seconds and couple of minutes, and do it for us. That’s awesome. Furthermore, bots that are activated by voice (Siri, Cortana, and Google Assistant) can make these tasks even less complicated. Talking is much easy than typing, so that’s probably the best solution, isn’t it?

Technology -> Solitude

Let’s take a few steps back. Over the years, since phones became an integral part of our lives, we became less talk-oriented and more text-oriented. A couple of times, I even found myself choosing texting “hey I’m at the door” instead of knocking on my girlfriend’s door. I know it sounds like the wrong way to go, but I, for example, find it kind of comfy. Why talk when I can tap a few times on a silent touchscreen and have the same result?

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They’re probably texting each other (picture by Ccmsharma2)

Do We Want To Go Back And Socialize?

Now back to our bots. Are voice-controlled bots the best solution? Well, like most of the good questions, the answer is a bit ambiguous. When I’m driving, voice-control is probably the best and the safest solution to complete tasks, but (and this is just my opinion) having lunch at a restaurant and telling my phone “Text Lisa – I won’t be able to make it to today’s meeting” is a bit awkward. I’m not comfortable with speaking out loud to a non-human thing in public. I’d much rather enter the texting app and send it myself. Speaking (like.. an actual voice call) has become a really small part of our phone usage, so there’s no reason for us to rely on it as a main interface between the user and his phone.

Technical stuff

Of course, in a perfect world, the social issues would be the only problem with voice-control, but I can’t ignore the technical issues with this kind of interaction. Take Google’s Assistant, a truly great voice-control assistant – At its demonstration, Google Assistant made a mistake and interpreted “Want to go see the Lumineers in Berkeley on Friday?” to “Went to go see the Lumineers in Berkeley on Friday”. A tiny mistake, but, at that moment, the user’s trust is lost. From now on, every voice-control task will be followed by the user checking the screen to see if his task was interpreted right.

So, What’s Your Solution?

Sure, there are problems creating the perfect human-bot-interaction, but there are some awesome solutions out there.

  1. Voice control at the right place – Google Home, Amazon’s Alexa are voice controlled bots that are located at your home – a place you feel comfortable raising your voice and speaking in.
  2. Interact by selection – Google’s Assistant reads your screen and predicts your needs, so all you have to do is confirm that this prediction was right, and you get what you wanted.
  3. Chatbots – We text all day long. Chatbots are already here and are used in many apps (for instance Telegram, Slack, Twitter, Facebook M). That way, we don’t need to switch our environment, we just move from a chat with a friend to a chat with a chatbot.

Conclusion Time

Microsoft CEO, Satya Nadella, said: “Bots are the new apps”. Bots were created to simplify tasks and make them easier than apps ever could, and I believe they will. I think bots interfaces should be tested really seriously, until they are perfect for the user’s needs. For my opinion, voice control is not the way to go. At least not as a main interface.

Do you know an alternative way to interact with bots? Do you prefer voice control? Please tell me what you think in the comments below!


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