Hey Siri, What is zero divided by zero?

For the next blog story, I was researching through various websites to find something interesting to write. After a few hours of searching, I gave up. I went to bed, thinking its time to sleep, and was sure that the hunt for the story would go on the next day. Finally, before sleeping, I thought of giving one last try. I said,

"Hey Siri, What are the interesting technological trends of the future?"

Then it suddenly hit me.

"Voice Assistants are the future." And I could finally have a good night's sleep. 😊

I am a firm believer in technology. I believe technology is changing the world and has a lot to offer in the future. So, the opinions that I will be sharing in the remainder of this article will be more from this positive perspective. You and I might have different opinions, and I am happy to discuss it. But for now, here it goes …..

The Birth of the New Primary User Interface

Do you remember the good old days, when your phones had a keypad? That was the first user interface that we used. I know typing was hard, it didn't look cool, and we needed something more convenient. Then came the age of touch. Keywords and Keyboards started disappearing.

The touch as a primary user interface is paving the way to a new age of voice and digital assistants. People are now interacting using voice at a much deeper level. They are using voice to search, shop, make reservations, and so much more.

Conversational AI is the future, and it's going to have a huge impact on consumer behaviour.

What is Conversational AI?

Conversational AI is the set of technologies behind automated messaging and speech-enabled applications that offer human-like interactions between computers and humans.

In simple terms, instead of humans learning computer code, Conversation AI technologies allow computers to learn our language and communicate with us.

I promise not to get too technical, but I would like to give you a perspective on how it works in a simplified manner.

We are just beginning to tap into the potential of Conversational AI through mobile phones and smart speakers. Let's see how the consumers are adopting it.

Adoption – Crossing the Chasm

Any new technology goes through the journey of adoption as described by the Theory of Diffusion of Innovation given by E.M Rogers.

According to the theory, The Innovators and early adopters are the ones who try out the new innovations and represent the early market. The main aim of the businesses is to push their innovations into the mainstream market. For the Early Majority and the Late majority to accept the innovations, it needs to cross an invisible barrier, known as "The Chasm."

According to a survey done by Microsoft in the US, Early adopters and Innovators are satisfied with their digital assistants, and 19% of them use it daily. Also, companies are trying their best to educate consumers on how to use their digital assistants for various purposes. For example, Amazon is trying to educate on how Alexa behaves to your request through catchy TV ads.

Digital assistants are getting smarter day by day. As they get more intelligent and respond more efficiently, our engagement with the digital assistants is going to increase. Due to all these reasons, I believe the digital assistants are on the edge of crossing "The Chasm" and entering the Mainstream market.

Consumer Usage

Even though the voice assistants are growing in their capabilities technologically, consumers use voice assistants mainly for basic tasks. The most common tasks include: Searching for something that the consumer would normally type into Google, Ask for directions, Ask a question, Check the weather, Play Music, Set timer, and other basic tasks.

But when we look at more advanced activities like Shopping, Controlling devices at home, Accessing credit card accounts, and so on, the usage is very less. This is the gap that companies are trying to fill. Unless consumers start using digital assistants for these advanced activities, it will not achieve its full potential in the market.

When you think about it, we didn't use the Internet and its capabilities early on. We took sufficient time to get comfortable paying online, shopping, and ordering food online. But now, we are comfortable doing all this on the Internet.

Similarly, we will adopt to use these digital assistants as time progresses. But, let's look at some of the consumer's thought process, which I feel are the major reasons that are limiting our usage of digital assistants to their full capabilities.

1) Lack of Trust :

Data Security and Passive Listening are some of the top concerns, and consumers do not trust the assistants entirely on these factors. It makes sense. A few of the times, if the assistant can't even answer my question right, how am I supposed to trust it in matters involving personal data and money?

Companies must try and increase the value that they provide through their digital assistants. As customers gain more value, they will get more comfortable with the technology. For example, Microsoft is working on six key principles to earn trust and enhance value.

2) Limited Knowledge :

As I have already told earlier, consumers need education on the full capabilities of using digital assistants. Companies are trying their best to spread awareness on how to use them. Apple sends its iPhone users regular updates on how they can use Siri in different ways. Amazon sends out a weekly update of new things to ask Alexa.

In recent times, companies are trying to sell their voice assistant services through smart speakers like Amazon Echo or Google Home. If a customer doesn't understand the complete usabilities of these devices, why would he or she be willing to pay high prices to buy those devices? Hence, enhancing customer knowledge to understand the full breadth of capabilities is very important for companies.

The Race to Deliver

These companies are fighting for the share of the market. As far as Smartphones are concerned, Apple’s Siri and Google Assistant lead the way. Amazon Alexa is the leader in the smart speaker segment with its amazon echo product. Both Google and Apple are catching up with their Google Home and Homepod offerings, respectively.

One question that comes to mind is, "What functionalities make a perfect digital assistant?". I found this answer in an article from Microsoft.

Each of the companies is trying to optimize its assistant in four categories: Knowledge, Productivity, Utility( IOT/ Home Management), and Commerce. As a user, we can see that there exists a lot of overlap in functionalities across all the digital assistants.

Each of the digital assistants tends to skew either towards Utility ( access and control of IoT device ) or Productivity ( integration into work solutions) or Knowledge ( providing answers to questions ) or Commerce ( the ability to make purchases with your voice ).

The perfect digital assistant is the one that is equally capable across all these functionalities. It needs to land exactly in the middle of the above chart.

I see a future where digital assistants are going to be a part of our lives. Companies are putting in efforts to lay the groundwork. They are spreading awareness and making consumers understand their capabilities and their value propositions. The accuracy of the digital assistants is bound to increase in the coming days. Providing a seamless user experience will help to generate trust, reliability, and make the customer comfortable in using digital assistants for advanced activities. The days where we would ask Siri to book our tickets, pay our bills, and order our favourite food is not very far.

Finally, heading back to my first question. “Hey Siri, What is zero divided by zero?”. I know it sounds funny. And it is supposed to sound funny. And the answer that Siri gives is even funnier. If you are not yet comfortable using voice assistants, I suggest you to start interacting with them by asking some funny and interesting questions. You need to get comfortable with the idea of using them for your day to day activities because That’s how “The Future” is going to be.

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