Are you rude to your virtual assistant?

2017 has been the year of the smart speaker. Amazon’s Echo Dot and Google’s Home Mini are currently selling for around $30, which makes them a popular Christmas gift. Using an Artificial Intelligence (AI) has never been cheaper and it’s finally reaching critical mass.

Companies are investing on AI more than ever: natural language recognition still has to improve a lot, but the current algorithms are already impressive. My favorite example: it’s now possible to ask “how long would it take me to get to Starbucks on 15th Ave?” and get an accurate response with the right assumptions. What a time to be alive!

All of this progress comes with side effects: having to learn how to talk to a machine. Often, people start talking without the wake-up keyword, and sometimes they forget to check if the device is actually listening, getting confused when there is no response to their inquiry. Talking to a machine is not easy and usually, very unsatisfactory.

Perhaps that dissatisfaction is what makes us be less aware about our manners when addressing an AI. What would you think if someone interrupted you mid-sentence with a sudden “STOP”? What if someone kept giving you orders relentlessly, never pausing to thank you? That’s how most of us talk to AI’s like Alexa or Siri, never saying “please” or “thank you”.

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Why we will never fall in love with our smartphone’s virtual assistant

After watching Her last night (the Golden Globe winner for the Best Screenplay category) I was captivated by its amazing performances and its delightfully depicted technology. What motivated me the most to watch the movie was this article from Wired: why Her will dominate UI design even more than Minority Report.

In the movie, technology is almost completely transparent for the user: most of the interactions between Theodore, the main character, and his “smartphone” happen through the earpiece and the virtual assistant, and he only touches the little screen when he wants to watch a picture. This is what his gadgets look like:

Visual user interfaces are almost nowhere to be seen, and that’s the message: human interactions are the future of personal computing.

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