Tag Archives: CxD

Design Voice Assistants as Performers

4 Nov

I recently read a very interesting article in Fast Company, which resonated a lot with me. Entitled “It’s time to rethink voice assistants completely“, it addresses a common obsession with designing voice interfaces that could easily be mistaken for humans.

It undoubtedly seems like a very noble goal, given that humans are at the apex of the communication pyramid among other living beings (let alone inorganic material!). However, the article makes the case, which I fully support, that human-like is not always desirable or even appropriate, especially if it fools you into thinking you are interacting with another human. This is a particularly poignant faux-pas, if the user did indeed believe the dialogue bot, only to be then frustrated by its lack of understanding or the lack of rationale in its response.

As the article suggests, human conversations should, of course, be studied thoroughly, but only be taken as inspiration for VUI and Voice Design, and not as the gold standard of interaction.

In fact, a disruptive idea is put forward, to consider Voice Assistants to be “performers, rather than human-like conversationalists”. That is precisely how you can create and craft more expressive, emotional, engaging and sticky conversational interfaces and the corresponding conversation designs.

DESIGN your conversational interface before Coding it!

20 Sep

I just listened to the latest Google Cloud Platform podcast with Google’s own Cathy Pearl and was delighted (and vindicated!) to hear her stress the importance of DESIGNING your conversational interface before CODING it. You really need to think hard about the user needs you’re trying to meet with the interface and the possible dialogue “scripts” that would help you do that. Only then should you bother start coming up with training phrases for your intents or actions. This will save you a lot of headaches, time and, actually, face among your customers too. I’ve seen so many instances myself of developers seeing VUI Design and Voice UX design as an afterthought and then wonder why their conversational interface is not conversational at all or indeed much of an interface to the intended data and services, as it doesn’t always respond appropriately to what the customer wants or even to what they say.

Listen to the enlightening podcast here.

An Amazon Echo in every hotel room?

16 Dec

The Wynn Las Vegas Hotel just announced that it will be installing the Amazon Echo device in every one of its 4,748 guest rooms by Summer 2017. Apparently, hotel guests will be able to use Echo, Amazon’s hands-free voice-controlled speaker, to control room lights, temperature, and drapery, but also some TV functions.

 

CEO Steve Wynn:  “I have never, ever seen anything that was more intuitively dead-on to making a guest experience seamlessly delicious, effortlessly convenient than the ability to talk to your room and say .. ‘Alexa, I’m here, open the curtains, … lower the temperature, … turn on the news.‘ She becomes our butler, at the service of each of our guests”.

 

The announcement does, however, also raise security concerns. The Alexa device is always listening, at least for the “wake word”. This is, of course, necessary for it to work when you actually need it. It needs to know when it is being “addressed” to start recognising what you say and hopefully act on it afterwards. Interestingly, though, according to the Alexa FAQ:

 

When these devices detect the wake word, they stream audio to the cloud, including a fraction of a second of audio before the wake word.

That could get embarrassing or even dangerous, especially if the “wake word” was actually a “false alarm“, i.e. something the guest said to someone else in the room perhaps that sounded like the wake word.

All commands are saved on the device’s History. The question is: Will the hotel automatically wipe the device’s history once a guest has checked out? Or at least before the next guest arrives in the room! Can perhaps every guest have access to their own history of commands, so that they can delete it themselves just before check-out? These are crucial security aspects that the Hotel needs to consider, because it would be a shame for this seamlessly delicious and effortlessly convenient experience to be cut short by paranoid guests switching the Echo off as soon as they enter the room!

User Interface Design is the new black!

14 Dec

capture

 

LinkedIn Unveils The Top Skills That Can Get You Hired In 2017

 

Number 5: USER INTERFACE DESIGN!

“User interface design is the new black:

UI Design, which is designing the part of products that people interact with, is increasingly in-demand among employers. It ranked #14 in 2014, #10 last year, and #5 this year (second largest jump on this year’s Global Top Skills of 2016 list). Data has become central to many products, which has created a need for people with user interface design skills who can make those products easy for customers to use.”

 

capture

Read all about it here.

https://blog.linkedin.com/2016/10/20/top-skills-2016-week-of-learning-linkedin

Amazon Alexa Developers Conference (10 Oct, London)

7 Oct

Exciting times for Amazon Alexa!

capture

Amazon Echo

  • Alexa has crossed over 3,000 skills in the US Skill Store, up from 1,000 in June;
  • Alexa has just started shipping in the UK and is coming soon to Germany too. Echo and Echo Dot were just made available in the UK, whereas in Germany they are available by invitation for those who want to help shape Alexa as she evolves—the devices will start shipping next month.
  • Amazon has also announced a new Echo Dot,  enabled with new Echo Spatial Perception (ESP) which allows devices to determine which device a user is talking to (meaning that only one will respond, when multiple devices hear the user). The Dot will increase the number of devices Alexa can talk to in the home, creating an innovative customer experience. It will retail for £49.99 and Echo for £149.99.

Here are 2 neat little YouTube videos showing Alexa in action.

 

 

In this context, Amazon is bringing their Alexa training events to Europe in October. Hello Alexa London is on Monday 10th October. 

  • Developers, engineers, QA/testers and anyone who wants to learn how to build skills can participate in the full-day agenda from 8:30am – 4:30pm (+ Happy Hour afterwards!)
  • Business development, strategy and planning, VUX/UX /VUI, account teams, producers and project management professionals can participate in the Alexa Business Development for Agencies session later in the day from 3pm – 4:30pm (and then of course join the Happy Hour!). They can also join the breakfast session, Welcome to Alexa (a 45-minute keynote) and Hello Alexa (a 1-hour session on the basics of creating a skill: what goes into the design, build, test, publish) from 8:30am – 10:45am.
  • Click here to register (although the event is already sold out by now!)  and hope to see you there!

I am really excited at how ubiquitous speech recognition is becoming! It was already ubiquitous as we were dragging it around on our smartphones (Apple SIRI, Google Now), but now it’s penetrated our homes too, crossing over work/personal/family lives. The future is omni-channel but unimodal?!

Big unknowns: what is consciousness?

6 Aug



What does it mean to be “you”?

Is a bee conscious? What about a monocellular organism? Surely humans are special? 

How do we think about ourselves, how can we be thinking about our thinking and behaviour (metacognition) and how is all that possible given the structure of our brains?

There are more questions than answers but the quest for answers is fascinating in itself.

http://www.theguardian.com/science/audio/2016/aug/05/big-unknowns-what-is-consciousness-podcast?CMP=Share_AndroidApp_WordPress

Meet META, the Meta-cognitive skills Training Avatar!

16 Jun

METALOGUE logo

EU FP7 logo

 

Since November 2013, I’ve had the opportunity to participate in the EU-funded FP7 R & D project, METALOGUE, through my company DialogCONNECTION Ltd, one of 10 Consortium Partners. The project aims to develop a natural, flexible, and interactive Multi-perspective and Multi-modal Dialogue system with meta-cognitive abilities; a system that can:

  • monitor, reason about, and provide feedback on its own behaviour, intentions and strategies, and the dialogue itself,
  • guess the intentions of its interlocutor,
  • and accordingly plan the next step in the dialogue.

The system tries to dynamically adapt both its strategy and behaviour (speech and non-verbal aspects) in order to influence the dialogue partner’s reaction, and, as a result, the progress of the dialogue over time, and thereby also achieve its own goals in the most advantageous way for both sides.

The project is in its 3rd and final year (ending in Oct 2016) and has a budget of € 3,749,000 (EU contribution: € 2,971,000). METALOGUE brings together 10 Academic and Industry partners from 5 EU countries (Germany, Netherlands, Greece, Ireland, and UK).

 

METALOGUE focuses on interactive and adaptive training situations, where negotiation skills play a key role in the decision-making processes. Reusable and customisable software components and algorithms have been developed, tested and integrated into a prototype platform, which provides learners with a rich and interactive environment that motivates them to develop meta-cognitive skills, by stimulating creativity and responsibility in the decision-making, argumentation, and negotiation process. The project is producing a virtual trainer, META, a Training Avatar capable of engaging in natural interaction in English (currently, with the addition of German and Greek in the future), using gestures, facial expressions, and body language.

METALOGUE Avatar

Pilot systems have been developed for 2 different user scenarios: a) debatingand b) negotiation, both tested and evaluated by English-speaking students at the Hellenic Youth Parliament. We are currently targeting various industry verticals, in particular Call Centres, e.g. to semi-automate and enhance Call Centre Agent Training.

 

And here’s META in action!

 

In this video, our full-body METALOGUE Avatar is playing the role of a business owner, who is negotiating a smoking ban with a local Government Counsellor.   Still imperfect (e.g. there is some slight latency before replying – and an embarrassing repetition at some point!), but you can also see the realistic facial expressions, gaze, gestures, and body language, and even selective and effective pauses. It can process natural spontaneous speech in a pre-specified domain (smoking ban, in this case) and it has reached an ASR error rate below 24% (down from almost 50% 2 years ago!). The idea is to use such an Avatar in Call Centres to provide extra training support on top of existing training courses and workshops. It’s not about replacing the human trainer, but rather empowering and motivating Call Centre Trainee Agents who are trying to learn how to read their callers and how to successfully negotiate deals and even complaints with them in an optimal way.

IMG_20151218_143348

 

My company, DialogCONNECTION, is charged with the task of attracting interest and feedback from industry to gauge the relevance and effectiveness of the METALOGUE approach in employee training contexts (esp. negotiation and decision-making). We are looking in particular for Call Centres;both small and agile (serving multiple small clients) and large (and probably plagued by the well-known agent burn-out syndrome). Ideally, you would give us access to real-world Call Centre Agent-Caller/Customer recordings or even simulated Trainer – Trainee phone calls that are used for situational Agent training (either already available or collected specifically for the project). A total of just 15 hours of audio (and video if available) would suffice to train the METALOGUE speech recognisers and the associated acoustic and language models, as well as its metacognitive models.

However, if you don’t want to commit your organisation’s data, any type of input and feedback would make us happy! As an innovative pioneering research project, we really need guidance, evaluation and any input from the real world of industry! So, if we have sparked your interest in any way and you want to get involved and give it a spin, please get in touch!