Cross-Post from my article in Chatbots Magazine
The concept of the Conversational User Interface (CUI) is not really new. Wolfgang Wahlster of the German Research Center for AI, DFKI, wrote 12 years ago in his paper on Conversational User Interfaces:
“Conversational user interfaces allow various natural communication modes like speech, gestures and facial expressions for input as well as output and exploit the context in which an input is used to compute its meaning. The growing emphasis on conversational user interfaces is fundamentally inspired by the aim to support natural, flexible, efficient and powerfully expressive means of human-computer communication that are easy to learn and use.”
Conversational User Interfaces Have a Chance to Become the Next Platform
Several trends support the idea that voice or textual user interfaces have a shot at becoming the next platform after mobile.
- Mobile devices have by nature a smaller screen, which makes typical GUI menu hierarchies harder to use.
- Just saying what you want, can be a powerful and direct approach, which can dramatically simplify interactions, especially when considering context awareness. “OK Google, Navigate Home”
- Messaging apps are among the most popular applications on mobile devices; they are used for real-time text-chats between two or more users. Understandably, companies try to go where their customers are, trying to create a presence inside these messaging applications. Messaging app providers would gladly build their apps into platforms, envisioning to get filthy rich on transaction fees. But don’t confuse the popularity of messaging apps as an endorsement of chatbots — the once popular landlines didn’t imply IVRs (Interactive Voice Response Systems) were all the rage either.
- Companies like Microsoft, which have no foothold in the mobile ecosystem (no mobile OS or popular mobile app) see the CUI as a new chance to (re-)gain influence, providing services necessary for a Conversational User Interface; i.e., speech recognition, intent extraction, natural language understanding, and speech synthesis.
Definition of the term “conversation” by Merriam-Webster
“oral exchange of sentiments, observations, opinions, or ideas“
Uttering commands like “What’s the weather in Mountain View tomorrow” or “Navigate Home” hardly qualifies as a conversation. Corporate bots living inside messaging platform like Facebook Messenger, very often mimic the much hated behavior of IVRs. While there is some back and forth, it doesn’t quite qualify as a conversation either.