Tag Archive for: Siri

This Week in Voice: Conversational AI use cases, ethical oversight, & Darth Vader

By Chris Ezekiel, Founder & CEO

As someone who enjoys listening to interesting podcasts, I was excited at my recent invitation to be a guest on This Week in Voice. Now in its seventh season, this podcast is hosted by Bradley Metrock, CEO of Project Voice and covers some of the hottest conversational AI news stories of the week.

I joined the podcast’s panel of experts for Season 7, Episode 3 which was released on 29 September 2022. Bradley led us in a discussion of these four news stories:

Listen to the full episode below (or on YouTube here or wherever you get your podcasts) for my discussion with Bradley, Timo Kunz, and Sean McIlrath. Here are a few thoughts that stuck out for me from our conversation.

In the timeline of human history, voice-first applications like Siri and Alexa are very recent developments. I can’t help but wonder how they will impact the way we interact in the future as younger generations grow up not experiencing a time when they didn’t exist. It will be important as parents, and a society, to consciously balance the use of these technologies with human interactions, like making sure our children are still going to playgroup and engaging with their peers in person.

However, there are great use cases for this type of technology that can benefit our lives, such as alleviating loneliness and helping people find the help or information they need to deal with sensitive situations. They can also better our day-to-day lives with seemingly little things like checking the local weather or setting a timer when our hands are messy while cooking dinner. Yet not all the newest features being added by companies reflect use cases that are likely to become commonly used.

When it comes to discussing the ethical oversight of conversational AI, it’s important to first start with identifying the way it is being implemented. There are still lots of varying ideas around what ‘conversational AI’ is, and without a consensus you can’t identify an overarching ethical code. For example, Creative Virtual’s conversational AI technology uses a hybrid approach to AI in which there is no black box. Having this human-in-the-loop approach takes away many of the ethical concerns of a machine learning-only conversational AI solution.

I’m personally excited that James Earl Jones will continue to be the voice of Darth Vader through the power of AI, but not at all surprised by the capabilities of this technology. Creative Virtual was delivering this type of solution with a specialised voice partner 15-20 years ago for some of our avatars. This story does bring up the ethical oversight question again, though. It would be interesting to get a look at the contract to understand the specifics of how Jones’ voice can be used for the character.

Thanks again to Bradley, Timo, and Sean for the great discussion! Check out the full This Week in Voice episode:

 

Alexa, Please Play Music

By Mandy Reed, Marketing Manager (Global)

Do you say ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ when you’re talking to a digital assistant like Alexa or Siri? Is it rude if you don’t? Does it really matter?

When I came across an article back in December exploring this topic, it gave me pause. The author, Chaim Gartenberg, argues that even though it doesn’t really matter to digital assistants if you’re being polite – they are just machines after all – that being polite to them helps reinforce positive behaviour. We speak to our devices the same way we speak to real people, in natural language, and so he comes to the conclusion that we should be polite to these digital assistants for our own benefit.

I had never really thought about this before. As I considered how I interact with voice-activated assistants, my niece popped into my head. When I first got my Amazon Dot, she was very interested in how I spoke to Alexa but was hesitant to try herself. She would regularly ask me to ask Alexa for the weather forecast or to play us music while we made dinner or tackled a craft project. Then one day she finally felt comfortable enough to ask herself and said, ‘Alexa. . .please play music.’ At the time, the fact that she said ‘please’ had made me smile to myself because she sounded so polite even though she was just talking to voice recognition software. She was illustrating the author’s point perfectly, speaking to Alexa the same way she would an actual person.

This past weekend that article came to mind once again. I wasn’t paying much attention to how my niece was asking Alexa to play music – ‘Alexa, play music’ – until she turned to me and said very matter-of-factly, ‘You don’t really have to say please.’ She was right of course. Alexa is not a person, and I had never specified that my house rule about using manners extended to electronic devices!

So often when I’m writing about customer engagement I talk about how technology is altering our communication preferences and the nature of our conversations. There are millions of articles about Millennials and how they’d rather text or get information online than make a phone call, and how organisations can take advantage of that to improve customer service. In some ways it all seems very over-hyped.

Yet, the truth is that technology has, and continues to, rapidly change how we interact and our expectations around communications. When I was young, the idea of talking to some kind of device to check the status of a bus or train, play a song list or even simply set a timer was the thing of fantasy and cartoons. Today my niece, at the ripe old age of five-and-a-half, lives in a reality that’s very different. Her world is texting, FaceTiming, Googling and not really having to say please when she asks Amazon’s Alexa to play her some music. She will never know a world without smartphones and talking to digital assistants will always be a normal part of everyday life.

I think it’s an important point Chaim raises in his article about ‘rudeness’ to digital assistants bleeding into our normal speech patterns. If we are constantly interacting with voice-activated assistants and chatbots in a blunt, please-and-thank-you-less way, will we start to interact with the real people around us in the same fashion? My inner anthropologist is intrigued with how this may impact our cultural norms and the ways my niece’s generation will communicate as they get older.

For now, I’m left with a dilemma. Do I extend my rule about using manners to include Alexa? Or will that cause me to lose some points in the family competition to be the ‘cool’ auntie? If only Alexa could please tell me what to do. . .