Influence on Society: 3. Variables (CH)

Referring back to the assumptions made earlier on and simultaneously looking forward to possible scenarios, this article’s goal is to identify and explain the variables that will be used for the subsequent analysis. In specific, we will have a look at four significant variables: price, easy-of-use, privacy, and replacement rate.

First, the “price” of digital assistants is decisive whether and how society will transform through digital assistants. Naturally, society will only develop and transform if many people from all social classes are able to access the digital assistants’ technology; accordingly, digital assistants need to be affordable and not only represent a gadget for high-income consumers. Ideally, prices of digital assistants follow the downward sloping curve of for example smartphone selling prices.

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Given that apps with digital assistant functionality are (currently) free of charge, the variable “price” only refers to hardware devices. The variable can easily be measured in quantitative terms.

Second, “ease-of-use” needs to be observed and evaluated. Society will adapt, use, and hence transform if digital assistants are well accessible/available in respective surroundings. The easier digital assistants can be activated and used, the (a) larger the group of potential users will be (consider for example peoples’ age and tech-savviness) and (b) more often services are used (consider for example a person’s daily routines). Naturally, the variable of ease-of-use needs to be evaluated qualitatively.

Third, the variable of “privacy concerns” should to be addressed. The more digital assistants are integrated into a person’s daily life, the more they can “learn” from their behaviour. This may range from things as simple as the time a person wakes up (e.g. through storing the time a person asks for the weather forecast) over who they have conversations with up to what these conversations are exactly about. The level of privacy needs may vary between nationalities and cultures but can also change over time. The variable can be measured through surveys.

Fourth, the variable of “replacement rate” should be considered. The better digital assistants replace other devices, the more likely it is that people will use the digital butlers. To better grasp the idea, one may consider the example of a modern smartphone which replaces all of the following, once separate devices: photo camera, video camera, music player, phone (calling), pc (playing, writing mails, etc.), fitness tracker, watch, GPS/maps, photo albums, and many more. Hence, the larger the functionality will be, the greater the influence on societal development. This variable can be measured both in quantitative terms (number of devices replaced) and qualitative terms (significance of replaced device).

To conclude, the variables which are important for the societal influence of digital assistants are price, ease-of-use, privacy concerns and replacement rate. The next chapter will use these variables to evaluate the likelihood and degree of two, respectively three scenarios in more detail.