Voice assistants serve their makers, not their users • The Register

opinion We have been promised an age of miracles. By 2022 we will have self-driving cars, robo-maids and even voice-controlled “friends” – digital companions that keep us informed. What went wrong?

We know that the physical world, full of exceptions and one-off events, constantly confuses even the ablest of people. Expecting more from software seems – from the jaded perspective of 2022 – a tragic example of believing in your own hype. Robo-maids and self-driving vehicles fall over when they hit the real world. Anything else would be either blind luck or black magic.

We had every reason to expect better results in the purely symbolic worlds of information, knowledge and communication. The big three personal voice assistants – Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant and Siri – have been with us for almost a decade, trained through billions (potentially trillions) of tiny interactions, each improving language models that now must be equivalent to anything developed anywhere.

Despite this, voice assistants have proven to be almost entirely pointless. Amazon recently admitted it loses billions of dollars a year on Alexa hardware that promises much and delivers disappointingly little. Ditto Google. Apple took less chances with Siri, but even its ambitions for a HomePod speaker — with Siri embedded — fell far short of the potential it hoped for.

Ask anyone how they use these assistants (anyone with a smartphone has access to at least one of them), and the answer almost always boils down to one of two tasks: play music or set a timer.

These activities, while useful, are such trivial uses of voice assistants that you have to wonder why anyone ever bothered—and why, in the face of such overwhelming indifference, vendors continue to throw billions into their development.

Why haven’t all voice assistants joined the vast graveyard of tried-and-failed technologies like pen computing, the semantic web, or blockchain?

The answer is simple: voice assistants were never designed to meet users’ needs. Voice assistant users are not their customers – they are the product.

Back at the 2019 Consumer Electronics Show, I took a quick tour of a pavilion featuring Amazon’s “Alexa Home” — short, because with all these devices listening and waiting for a word to pounce on, the pavilion felt more like it like a cell to the ministry of love as the home of the future. All of these microphones were waiting for an opportunity to collect data – about activities, needs, or wants – so that that information could be sold, analyzed, translated into some kind of almost subliminal nudge, and then fed back to the user. The entire system has been carefully designed as a closed loop feedback that introduces users to consumption patterns intended to benefit Amazon.

Although most users were unaware of this architecture, they somehow instinctively rejected it. Nobody uses voice assistants in the way their creators intended – everyone uses them with the bare minimum that offers some level of automation without sacrificing freedom of choice. How we managed to do this – collectively and unconsciously – must astonish the makers of these gadgets, who obviously believed we would be wide open to the wonder of AI.

They believed this because these assistants were designed to mimic the Knowledge Navigator – the primordial demo of personal digital assistants dreamed up by Apple’s research team thirty years before it became possible. Using a conversational interface, Knowledge Navigator helped its users find what they needed to find, learn what they needed to learn, and do what they needed to do. It gave them additional freedom of choice in every situation.

That dream didn’t survive the rise of the internet as an ad-supported medium. The agency lost to the agencies, learning gave way to profiling, and finding was limited to commercially beneficial search results. Tailored to fit the Procrustean bed of late capitalism, the knowledge navigator’s heirs promised much – but could only ever serve their masters, not their users.

By playing with the exciting and terrifying ChatGPT, I’ve regained my sense of what a knowledge navigator should be like. It is friendly, knowledgeable and works towards my own goals. However, someone has already pointed out that since ChatGPT was released for free, it is free to use all of our interactions: learn, refine its models and – maybe – create the next generation of these failed voice assistants.

Something intelligent that is engaging, friendly, and helpful while profiling, analyzing, and nudging—this could be our future. Will we instinctively resist these new offerings when they serve their masters to us? ®

https://www.theregister.com/2022/12/14/voice_assistants_failed/ Voice assistants serve their makers, not their users • The Register

Rick Schindler

World Time Todays is an automatic aggregator of the all world’s media. In each content, the hyperlink to the primary source is specified. All trademarks belong to their rightful owners, all materials to their authors. If you are the owner of the content and do not want us to publish your materials, please contact us by email – admin@worldtimetodays.com. The content will be deleted within 24 hours.

Related Articles

Back to top button