Lockdown has brought some people closer together, but others have felt more isolated and alone not being able to meet their friends. Loneliness is in many ways a pandemic in modern society like COVID-19. In the UK. according to the British Red Cross and Eurostat, more than 9 million people say that they often or always feel lonely and it has a serious effect on our physical and mental health. But that is unlikely to be the case in the future.
We are all now familiar with smart speakers such as Alexa or Google Home within which are their respective digital assistant technologies. Voice interfaces are also already implemented into cars, fridges and TVs etc. as well as smartphones. This enabling of devices will increasingly roll-out across any device with which we might need to interact. The assistants use natural language processing to enable them to make sense of human language and respond in kind. It is still early days for such technologies, but they are getting better, and more conversational. Voice is a much more natural way to communicate than screen-based messaging, as we know from our own human-to-human interactions. And the more we talk to our devices the better they are trained and learn, so the better conversationalists they will become. And let’s not forget, they are very good listeners.
Some companies have already realised that technology can not only give practical information and assistance, but also provide a level of companionship.
Chatbots (whether voice enabled or not) and also helping. A chatbot is a computer simulation of a human conversation and you can chat with one via your smartphone, computer, device etc and that can be embedded in familiar platforms like Facebook or Skype. Casper, the mattress company, has created the Insomnobot3000, a chatbot that talks to you when you can’t get to sleep. It gets extra chatty between 11pm and 5am.
But it’s not until you add conversational capabilities by voice to smart devices that their true potential is enabled. For instance, a healthcare AI provider called LifePod has developed a voice service aimed at improving how caregivers monitor and support ageing patients or those living socially isolated lives. It uses what it calls ‘proactive voice’ to initiate conversations and ensure meaningful interactions are taking place.
Brands are always trying to develop ‘relationships’ with their customers, or at least a good level of trust. As we all know, we develop trust with the people we know through conversation. Now is a great time for brands to experiment with getting their conversational etiquette right. Loneliness is not going anywhere, but building experience and a historical relationship with customers is finite opportunity. People don’t tend to scroll through responses on voice-enabled devices, so who better to understand us than the things we spend most time with?
In the future I believe conversational interfaces with the things around us will be the norm. They could well form parts of our social networks. After all, we are already becoming part of the Internet of Things through wearable technologies. Now this Internet of Everything will include us. It may sound bizarre, but no more bizarre than most of our social networks on social media platforms being currently made up of lots of people we don’t know. The things around us will know us best, know how we feel and what we need. They will be able to proactively help us and be our true friends. In the future your best friend could well be the devices in your home. Will it be your microwave oven? Maybe not with advances in solid-state RF energy leading to new more advanced ovens, but whatever the new technology it will find its voice,
If you would like to meet companies developing technologies that connect people and voice interfaces and/or discuss the future then please contact: