Me, ChatBot and AI

Is the conversational UI a skeuomorphic container?

Interactions today are coming in many different flavors. The Qz.com news app simulates a messenger. Amazons Alexa can order an Uber or Pizza through voice control and the latest Facebook basketball game inside the messenger app can be seen as a first glimpse of what will come when Chatbots infiltrate our messaging apps. From the command line to notifications, to the soon omnipresent Chatbots, the “Conversational UI (CUI)”, the idea to use chat or conversation as an interface, is rumored to be the next big thing.

We start to talk to our devices instead of pushing buttons and we just start to explore the potential of Chabots, programs which simulate a conversation between us and a machine. What is still SciFi for most of us, can already be created with out coding skills with tools like Chatfuel. Does the CUI serve the same temporary purpose as skeuomorphism did for us in the past?

The contemporary design standards and techniques found for example in iOS9 and most popularly distributed through Google’s Material Design Language, have rewritten navigation patterns. The resulting homogenized apps now have a similar understanding of design pattern and navigation paradigms. Creating a streamlined approach to web and app design, Skeuomorphism– the trend to simulate real-world textures and behaviors — became outdated.

The visual design trend skeuomorphism was here to help us to make a transition into the touch-based digital world, to find familiar metaphors for new abstract interactions. Remember the days when swiping right wasn’t so intuitive? The fake notebook with wooden and paper textures helped us to shift to our today’s mobile apps. While skeuomorphism is seen today as profusely and antic, the current trend, the invisible UI on the other side still act as a novelty and is seen as incomprehensible and hard to understand. The invisible UI of Snapchat wouldn’t have worked five years ago but what we may call today still frivolous is for the next already generation of users already common knowledge. The way conversations will change the way we design our UI in the near future will boost interaction paradigms even further.

Skeumorphism allowed us to learn the common interaction paradigm we use today. It was a link to help the majority to learn how to interact and navigate on touch based applications.

During a stay in Hong Kong two years ago I was surprised to see everywhere people holding their smartphones to their chin and talking into it. It took me some time to realize that dictating a message in Chinese was faster than writing it. Those dictations apps can be seen as the first generation of conversational UI, a one-way communication. We are at the start of the second generation right now which allows us to interact with them, while those interactions are often still pretty simple they give us a sneak peak into the future, where AI might be capable of learning and getting creative in understanding our patterns and responding accordingly like in the movie “Her”.

Having a conversation today with an AI like Alexa feels more human than ever before. I can ask her to tell me a joke or a story and by having a conversation with her I instantly try to understand her personality. We read and compare her behavior and abilities like a human being and we start to reference to Alexa as Her and not as Machine anymore. We start to create AIs which mimics human behavior. Do we design personalities, character traits right now to make the shift from a simple interaction to the highly complex task we give to an AI? Could this be the reason why we blame an AI when they simply don’t have the empathy we expect them to have yet?

In my view we are using the CUI as a gateway for understanding the abstract connections of our smart devices and services. We use conversation as a way to make the abstract connections tangible to make us feeling comfortable while we interacting with dead matter. We use conversation to learn ultimately the language between AI and us but those new ways of interactions can only flourish through all those interactions we learned and will learn through those new hybrid skeuomorphic conversational apps.

Are we learning right now a new language, a new understanding to speak AI? What will the native Language of AI be? Are we right now at the beginning of becoming AI natives?

thanks a lot for awesome inputs Burton Rast and Nicholas Pajerski.