Are we falling for our tech?

Is there a growing familiarity with our tech and not in the platonic sort of way? Having meaningful relationships and feeling a connection are core human needs. Technology appears to be filling the gap for some.

In the 2013 film Her, a man falls in love with a witty, empathic virtual assistant named Samantha. If you’ve seen the news over the past few years, the movie seems much more prescient than it ever did before. In fact, in 2017 over a million people asked Alexa to marry them.

 

Quickly browsing through Alexa’s available skills, it’s easy to see how you can craft the perfect virtual mate. Want a few compliments to brighten your day or have someone there to say good night? How about dimming the lights and playing the right mood music on request? Always helpful and cheerful, never complaining. Listening to your inner thoughts without judgment or recrimination. What’s not to love?

With developments in AI and voice design, we may be entering new territory in human-computer interaction. A few recent headlines reveal the deepening connections between people and technology. In 2017 a Chinese man married a robot he designed and built after he failed to find a human wife, and in 2018 a man in Tokyo married a holographic virtual singer called Hatsune Miku. This man is not alone – the hologram’s makers have issued 3,700 certificates for “cross dimension marriages”.

By 2021, it’s estimated that there will be more voice assistants on the planet than humans. The digital natives of “Generation Alpha” are growing up in a world where voice assistants are pervasive. But, they will have higher expectations from their digital assistants. With trends toward personalisation, it’s natural this push will extend to voice technology. Studies show people are more likely to open up to non-human devices, sharing intimate details. That leaves our assistants with a wealth of user-generated information to draw from, tailoring the experience.

Understanding and analysis of human emotion in voice interactions is also in development. A study by Imperial College Business School found that virtual assistants can predict a relationship’s success by analysing a couple’s interactions. Huawei is developing technology to examine tone of voice and other non-verbal clues that they will apply to engage users with their assistants on an emotional level.

Knowing our preferences and touching our emotions, will assistants become our most trusted, lifelong confidants? It’s not difficult to imagine developing a loyalty and connection to an assistant that intimately knows you and can predict your wants and needs.

While the technology is far from substituting human interaction, it is an interesting space to watch. As designers, we have exciting opportunities in voice design and branding, challenges in what “good” sounds like to users. But, we should also consider the user’s privacy and security challenges in this growing intimacy with our technology.

If you would like your services to connect on a more emotional level with your customers, we can help, get in touch, we’d love to talk.

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About Bunnyfoot

We are psychologists, interaction and design experts, researchers, usability specialists. We cover Web, software, mobile, print, service design and more.
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