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If Conversational Assistants Could Facilitate Human Conversation

Joseph Zhang
Oct 19 · 4 min read

Rich, engaging conversation is a hallmark of meaningful human-to-human interaction. However, factors such as relational closeness, social formalities, and insecurities often hinder unfamiliar individuals from going beyond the surface-level conversation.

Thinkspace is a speculative concept that aims to reinvision the role of conversational agents in discussion-based contexts.

Generative vs. Passive Agents

In this project, I wanted to challenge the ‘assistant’ metaphor of voice agents. Though the main intent of CUI’s is still to help accomplish tasks, what if these agents could provide input in a way that we might not even know to ask for? In the proper context, what if human conversation can be enriched through the facilitation of a proactive assistant rather than a reactive one?

Our Mind as an Environment/Container

“How can this conceptual model of the human mind influence us on a social level? More specifically, how can the grouping and regrouping of our thoughts act as an metaphor for the way we should engage with people that have different backgrounds, cultures, and ideas?”

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Constant rearrangement of thought

Thinkspace as a product

To wake the system, an individual invocates through voice. Thinkspace is about conversation, therefore the first point of interaction should reflect that.

From there, users decide the system’s role through a mobile interface via bluetooth connection. Every conversation has a different context and reason for initiation. Thinkspace embraces that, giving users the ability to choose the conversational assistant’s role prior to beginning the actual conversation.

This is called an intent, a user-selected mode that dictates the conversational assistant’s behavior. This system is meant to be modular in that the number of possible roles will increase as the entire Thinkspace system expands.

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Though it would be quite convenient for users to verbally invoke in a similar way people say“Hey Siri” or “Alexa”, the purpose of the system is to encourage enhance human-to-human conversation, not human-to-computer conversation. Because of that, Thinkspace is designed so that no verbal exchange occurs between person & computer. And though Thinkspace is designed to live in a physical room which affords for some variation of a projected interface, the learning curve of such a foreign interaction paradigm is unnecessary.

When the group has selected a role for the system and has began conversing, Thinkspace only communicates in visual and audial cues, no spoken dialogue. The goal again is to highlight the human-to-human conversation, therefore the assistant never replies auditorily in words.

Building Prototypes

Prototype can be found here.

Semi-final test of speech → text → particles (iteration 7/12)
Projection into spatial environment

Final Concept

Project Takeaways

The Startup

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