Voice assistants are breaking out of the phone. 

From Google to Amazon to Apple, software giants are integrating voice commands, search and a whole lot of data to makes their digital voices not just smarter, but more human. The promise of voice-activated AI is exciting, but in entirely digitizing our interactions we run the risk of losing real conversation. 

Can We Talk?

MIT’s Sherry Turkle tackles the issue in her book, "Reclaiming Conversation." By retreating to our devices, she argues, we forget what it means to be human. And the hiring of poets and novelists to craft “characters” for these emerging AIs points to the fact that consumers clearly value the human element. 

Even if we succeed in creating an incredibly advanced AI system, we will never truly duplicate empathy or replace conversation. 

Despite some perceptions to the contrary, people still value conversation with humans, not machines. 

Whether in the form of phone calls, WhatsApp or FaceTime, the desire for back-and-forth persists — and that’s a human truth, not just a cultural or generational one. This is why the heaviest hitters in tech, including Google, Microsoft and Amazon, along with more niche companies, are developing conversation platforms and speech APIs. 

It’s why Facebook has added the ability to make an audio call from any group chat to its Messenger platform, on the heels of Snapchat and Slack adding voice calling options to their apps in March. 

We’re glued to our phones, and as a result, it may seem as if our in-person interactions are dwindling. But as we swipe and snap away, one thing remains consistent: we still want conversation. 

It's All About the Connections

Invoca surveyed 2,000 US adults about how they’d choose to relay news about a major life event, like getting engaged or getting divorced. The majority chose to call — over options like email, SMS, social media, messaging or video apps — in every situation. 

And it’s not just Baby Boomers who drive up this number: 79 percent of millennials said they make a call at least once a day, compared with 17 percent who said they take a selfie once a day. Despite the buzz around chatbots and automated conversation, conversations are still key.

Learning Opportunities

Mobile has already shifted what we want from computing. As AI advances, there’s space for technology to encourage empathy and human connection. 

I don’t believe we’ll hang out with holograms or meet as telepresent robots, but I do see the potential for machine learning to predict intent, and for virtual assistants to connect us with real people more easily. I expect that the next generation of mobile will enable more seamless conversations — an evolution of speaking into your iPhone and saying “Siri, call home.”

Communication is deeply personal. Each form has its ideal state and purpose. 

The future of technology in this realm involves stringing together the right form of communication for each person and situation. It’s not about rejecting technology or banishing devices from our daily lives. It’s about combining “traditional” communications with the digital, and creating opportunities for connection and empathy. 

That means understanding the human experience of intent and context, recognizing how people want to interact, and providing options for that type of connection to unfold. 

infographic, take two

Infographic provided by Invoca

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