The Future of Interaction?

Will conversational input become the norm?

Over the past couple years, we’ve become more accustomed to different sorts of interactions with devices. While both Android and iOS had their voice assistants and the XBox One Kinect had voice control for the television, it seemed that it wasn’t until Amazon’s Alexa came around that many people really latched onto voice commands.

These new types of interactions go beyond voice or other conversational inputs (like bots). There are simple button-interactions like Amazon’s Dash and other devices that opt for gesture controlled interactions. However, none of these seem to have gone mainstream.

This week, Ashley Carman wrote an interesting article for the Verge that talks a bit about these different types of interactions and why so many companies seem intent on pursuing them. She seems skeptical of their ability to go beyond niche uses in the near term, and I generally agree with her. Heck, I would be willing to bet that, for most people, even the Echo is a glorified speaker and timer. This isn’t revolutionary.

I’ve spent some time writing a skill for Alexa and, more recently, exploring building a conversational bot using SuperScriptJS (I hope to have more about that in the near future). On the one hand, I think the uses for this type of interaction is limited today (for example, when it is unsafe or inconvenient to type), but I do believe that, somehow, this will change and interacting with devices via voice or standard conversational inputs will become the norm (I am way more skeptical about gestures, which have always seemed clunky).

Part of the problem is that, most any voice input or conversational interaction today involves very specific voice commands or extremely well-thought out planning for handling most potential variations of what a user might naturally say or respond. Things can break down quickly once simplistic rules are broken - dumb things like, for example, determining that Brian Rinaldi is my first and last name, but in the case of someone named Mary Anne, Anne is not her last name. Thus the user ends up being limited to very constrictive interactions that are not truly “conversational,” making them less natural and comfortable.

But…this is likely to change. Once it does, I believe we’ll see a far clearer path forward on these types of voice and chat interactions.