The Need for Conversational User Interfaces

Axel Mortimer
Sep 6, 2017 · 2 min read

“Most of our daily news is inert, consisting of information that gives us something to talk about but cannot lead to any meaningful action.”

-Neil Postman

Growing up, I was told that “politics would soon be dead,” given the new information age. Citizens could gorge themselves in the wide availability of information, and truth would be evident to all. How could someone be lied to about an economic theory when the average citizen now has access to that knowledge at a moment’s notice? However, clearly, the opposite seems to have happened. People are more divided on what the “truth” is than ever; scandals have only increased. A lot of this can be traced back to the growing prominense of our access to information (by way of the internet) and how often we are viewing this information on screens. Moving to Conversational User Interfaces solves two potential issues that arise from this new informational paradigm:

1) We can no longer parse the glut of information that is presented to us on any given day. As Neil Postman talked about in Technopoly, the virtue of ideology was that it functioned as a way to sort through and destroy irrelevant information. “New” information also sought to destroy ideology, and for most of human progress these held each other in check. But now information is so widespread and redundant, ideology has become de facto useless and the average person has no metric to judge new information against. As a result, most of us are now overwhelmed and more confused than ever.

2) Our attention is being designed for. For example, if we want to find the detail of an event on Facebook, Facebook is intentionally designed so that you get distracted and lost in the rest of the site, increasing the “time on site” metric which they sell to advertisers. Companies literally hire people called “Growth Hackers” who design new and more addictive methods to achieve this. But that does not mean this additional time on Facebook is time spent “wisely” by any other metric, but Americans stay addicted to their smartphone.

Conversational User Interfaces cut through both of these issues by only presenting you the information that you requested. It is borderline impossible to spend hours “lost” in a Voice User Interface, given that it would be ridiculous if Siri answered your question and read you a long series of adverts (but this is essentially how most websites are designed today). The question or query that you yell to your Amazon Echo essentially acts as its own form of ideology, excluding information presented to you that has nothing to do with the question. This functions to allow us to incorporate relevant information more immediately and to go about our day, instead of the current system where we function as our own queries to sort through the irrelevant search results or blog articles that had nothing to do with our original intention.