Take any major conference that happened this year, Google I/O, Apple’s WWDC, or Microsoft Build. A major focus of all these conferences by top-notch tech leaders is improving User experience, smoothing out the process of how a user experiences their products.
In present times, the user experience is heavily dependent on how a system interacts with a human. It may be either through responsive web designs, or appealing architectures. It may also be through an interactive module, such as a conversational UI, a chatbot, or a voice interface—essentially the same thing albeit with slight changes in their definition. Irrespective of they are called, these UX models have one fixed goal: to improve the interaction between a human, and a system, such that it feels real.
In our recently conducted Packt Skill-up survey 2018, we asked developers and tech pros about whether Conversational User Interfaces and chatbots are going to be the future for web UI?
Well, it seems yes, as over 65% of respondents, agreed that chat interactions and Conversational User Interfaces are the future of the web. After the recent preview of the power of Google Duplex, those numbers might be even higher if asked again today.
Why has this paradigm of interacting with the web shifted from text and even visual searches on mobile to Voice, Natural language, and conversation UI? Why is Apple’s Siri, Google’s Voice assistant, Microsoft’s Cortana, Amazon Echo, releasing new versions every day?
Computing power & NLP, the two pillars
Any chatbot, or voice interface, requires two major factors to make them successful. One being computational power, which makes a conversational UI process complex calculations. And natural language processing, which actually makes a chatbot conduct human-like conversations.
Both these areas have made tremendous progress in the recent times. A large number of computational chips namely GPUs, TPUs, as well as quantum computers, are being developed, which are capable of processing complex calculations in a jiffy. NLP has also gained momentum both in speech recognition capabilities (understanding language) and artificial intelligence (learning from experience). As technology in these areas expands, it paves way for companies to adopt conversational UIs as their main user interface.
The last thing we need is more apps
There are already a very large number of apps (read millions) available in app stores and they are increasing every day. We are almost at the peak of the hype cycle. And there is only downfall from here. Why? Well, I’m sure, you’ll agree, downloading, setting up, and managing an app is a hassle, not to mention, humans have limited attention spans, so switching between multiple apps happens quite often.
Conversational UIs are rapidly taking up the vacuum left behind by mobile apps. They integrate functionalities of multiple apps in one. So you have a simple messaging app, which can also book cabs, search, and shop or order food. Moreover, they can simplify routine tasks. AI enabled chatbots, can remind you of scheduled meetings, bring up the news for you every morning, analyze your refrigerator for food items to be replenished, and update your shopping cart, all with simple commands.
Advancements in deep learning have also produced, what are known as therapist bots. Users can confide in bots just as they do with human friends when they have a broken heart, have lost a job, or have been feeling down. (This view does assume that the service provider respects the users’ privacy and adheres to strict policies related to data privacy and protection.)
The end of screen-based interfaces
Another flavor of Conversational UI is the Voice User interfaces (VUI). Typically, we interact with a device directly through a touchscreen or indirectly with a remote control. However, VUI is the touch-less version of technology where you only need to think aloud with your voice. These interfaces can work solo, like Amazon Echo, or Google Home or be combined with text-based chatbots, like Apple Siri, Google voice assistant etc.
You simply need to say a command or type it, and the task is done.
“Siri, Text Robert, I’m running late for the meeting.”
And boy! Are voice user interfaces growing rapidly! Google Duplex, announced at Google I/O 2018, can even make phone calls for the users imitating human natural conversation almost perfectly. In Fact, it also adds pause-fillers and phrases such as “um”, “uh-huh “, and “erm” to make the conversation sound as natural as possible.
Voice interfaces also work amazingly for people with disabilities including Visual imparities. Users, who are unable to use screens and keyboards, can use VUI for their dat-to-day tasks. Here’s a touching review of Amazon Echo shared by a wheelchair-bound user about how the device changed his life.
The world is being swept over by the wave of Conversational UI, Google duplex being the latest example. As AI deepens its roots, across the technology ecosystem, intelligent assistant applications like, Siri, Duplex, Cortana will advance. This boom will push us closer to Zero UI, a seamless and interactive UI which eradicates the barrier between user and device.