UI, short for user interfaces are the connector between machines and us. Not only software, but also common hardware parts like the touchscreens of our phones or computers and everything else we use to control a machine with.
The crucial factor for new technologies is how we actually use it in day to day life, not (only) the technical advancement. This is what makes UI design so incredibly important as a point of intersection between us and technology.
When you think of a virtual assistant lile Google Home, Alexa, Sonos or Siri, the human intersection part is called VUI – Voice-user interface.
Only a really advanced voice recognition VUI enables us to efficiently use these voice assistant technologies.
Voice assistants have just become a common device to use in households, especially through breakthroughs of VUI voice recognition standards by Amazon or Apple. Many other companies are pushing into the market increasing the usability of voice devices, phones and laptops constantly.
The question for the implementation into the corporate world will be, whether voice assistants make work more efficient or not. VUI standards are about to take this hurdle rather soon. Other use cases like transcription or translation in real-time are also about to become mainstream.
If you think like humans interact and communicate in their native way, that is no wonder. Speech is much easier and more native for human communication than using hands to type in commands into a device. That’s how information was gained and relationships were built throughout history. That’s what our brains are most used to.
To build a VUI A.I. that actually replaces the human to communicate with, human voice interaction needs to be understood in every little detail. Not to forget the differences between different languages, dialects and accents. Of course our communication style already has and will have to adjust to how voice devices communicate as well. Only by that, the interactions with VUIs become really fluent in daily life and daily business.
It’s clear that we didn’t arrive at that point yet, but we’re getting closer every day. Like every new technology that is disrupting our life, it comes with advantages and disadvantages and a lot in between. Let’s have a closer look on VUIs potential impact…
For building a great Voice User Interface, developers need to understand the users, know the exact use-cases of voice assistants, and especially the pitfalls of communication with a VUI in repeated conversations. The points where users are jumping off because they get annoyed by the current state of a VUI. These are the points which could inhibit VUI from exponential growth.
These are the great advantages of VUIs, also compared to non-voice interfaces:
- More human interaction — voice communication is most native to humans. Being able to use technology in such an efficient way, will make a large difference on the number of touching points we have with technology. This could lead to an exponential growth in technology usage for humans.
- Comfort — if you speak to an advanced VUI device that actually understands what you are saying, there is not more physical interaction required than moving your lips and using your ears. Compare that to typing longer texts into a cellphone! Imagine how many tasks in day to day life could be replaced by VUIs that are actually ready for that.
- Personality — likewise it can become very boring to a person speaking without any ups and downs in their voice, robotic VUI voices are not nice to speak to for longer. Also, a robot voice without any own mind and humor is simply weird to communicate with every day. This also means that VUIs will need to learn constantly about new trends, new words of youth, new cultural developments. Only then, and with a lot of human traits they will become actually loved by us, making our life not just little easier but better.
Like every new and disruptive technology, VUIs are facing a couple of challenges that have to be addressed. Some have to do with insufficient understanding of human interaction in communication, some are of technical nature will take time to be solved.
The most important shortcomings of VUIs today are:
- Low usage — as we’re still in the early days of VUIs, the ultimate breakthrough is still a long way off. Developers already have high output rates for new VUIs, but users are not adapting to the new opportunities at the same pace. And of course the skills (as VUIs are called on Amazon Echo) are not yet adjusted well enough to daily needs of users.
- A VUI is not a human — when we speak to a voice assistant, we can’t ourselves simply the way we feel like at the moment. VUIs are limited to a number of linguistic commands and language processes. Users tend to get tired with VUIs limitations after being misunderstood a couple of times. The solutions come from both sides: the developers need to increase the number of linguistic commands and variations, and the users need to understand the limitations of VUIs perception better to express themselves with a few clear commands.
VUIs & Privacy
Recently, privacy is one of the most crucial factors to decide about the future of VUIs. The Cambridge Analytica GDPR scandal raised the simmering problem to the surface. Users ask themselves how much of their conversations are actually recorded and potentially misused by corporations? As long as this insecurity is pending, VUIs will remain to have privacy and GDPR concerns. This will lead to a struggle to fulfil their full potential.
What to expect from VUIs?
VUIs are still far away from providing the sufficient level of complexity, flexibility and quality which are needed for an ultimate breakthrough of the technology. Accordingly, the number of problems that systems based on VUIs actually solve is still very limited. The potential however is unlimited to all forms of human interaction that can be digitalized and optimized. From connectivity of existing forms of communication like Whatsapp, Skype, Google Meet or traditional phone calls to new ways to organize ourselves in business and IoT connections to our homes.