Communication and emotions have a lot in common. As emotional beings, we tend to understand people by picking up emotional cues. Face to face communication consists of a large part of the emotions we send out. Some studies indicate that as little as 7% of any message is conveyed through words, 38% through vocal elements, and 55% through nonverbal elements (gestures, facial expressions, posture, etc.).
In the digital age we tend to communicate more and more via text, and even within text communication, we analyze the tone and emotional backbone. Emojis were introduced to help deliver those cues, and companies like Apple are trying out to further develop emojis by mimicking our facial expressions. Linguists are increasingly worried or saddened by the fact that some communicate with more emojis than actual words, and thus skinning away from the beauty of written language.
With 2017 we have yet another behavioral shift which is moving from text-based information to speech information acquisition. Interestingly enough, before computers, our only way of acquiring knowledge was by talking or by reading books. So now as technology has developed to understand our speech we have gone back to voice communication. Hence, the two groups that would use voice assistants most naturally are kids and elderly. Two groups which are often not prioritized when it comes to technology.
The past months, both Amazon and Google have increased their spendings on marketing their little devices. If we look closely at Google’s latest ads (which are frequently shown on TV, YouTube, radio, and podcasts) they try to address the emotional side of us. One of the ads portraits a father who in the first scenes is ignoring his children because he is too focused on his smartphone screen, in the second part he has a Google home and instead of focusing on his phone he is interacting with his kids while talking to Google home. What is happening here is addressing today’s “problem” of many homes. We are all familiar, and most of us can admit to taking out their smartphone during dinner time instead of interacting with friends and family. So what the big 3 (Google, Amazon, Apple) are now promising is to liberate us from anti-social behavior by making technology more of a family member that will be there listening to the next time you are “just checking something.”
Verbal communication is the most natural way for us human beings to communicate and develop relationships. We also know that people are now very attached to their smartphones (most declare to feeling “naked” without their smartphone). Now with an added layer of interaction, the presence of technology in our life’s will increase to yet another level, one that will involve the most human and intimate way of communication. Today we might consider giving specific commands to Alexa, Siri or Google Home, but within a couple of years, we will have various parts of the family talking to their VA (voice assistant) as if it would be their little house elf. Moms will tell Google to set up reminders, dads will do their shopping, and kids will play games and ask inappropriate questions that they would feel too shy to ask their parents. The VA will become the additional family member that will become more and more an integral part of daily life, the same way we see smartphones today.
Currently, both Amazon and Google are pushing their devices cheaply to as many users as possible. Both companies are selling their entry-level devices for less than a couple of coffees as they know that revenue streams will shift when the market matures.
Current users of voice assistant are still considered early adopters, but as more companies are seeing the potential of extending their product touch-points towards VA’s, it will attract further interest. No matter how excellent the technology is, people have to know what they can use it to find it desirable.
Amazon frequently organizes competitions for developers to bring new use-cases for the Echo family. As new ways of using voice assistants will grow, people will find them more useful for implementing them into their lives. Companies like Amazon see great value in motivating developers and businesses to start thinking of voice assistants as an essential touchpoint.
As of now most people have got to know Siri and Google but considered them unreliable for anything except setting alarms and timers. However this is just the beginning, we are living in a time of significant advancements, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the future of voice assistants will start picking up our nonverbal cues. Silicon Valley companies have even been recruiting comedians into their teams to make their devices closer to its user’s hearts. As we are gradually exposed to the newer and improved versions of voice assistants, we will quickly forgive how incompetent they once were and see them as essential parts of our digital self.