May 21, 2014
IBM's acquisition of Cognea, a startup that creates virtual assistants of multiple personalities, further reinforces that voice is not enough for artificial intelligence. You need personality.
I for one cheer IBM's investment, because to be honest, IBM Watson's Jeopardy voice was a bit creepy. What has made Apple's Siri intriguing and personable, even if not always an effective capability, is the sultry sound of her voice and at times the hilarity of Siri's responses. However, if you were like me and changed from the female to male voice because you were curious, the personality of male Siri was disturbing (the first time I heard it I jumped). Personality is what you relate to.
The impression of intelligence is a factor of what is said and how it is delivered. Think about how accents influence our perception of people. It is why news media personalities work hard to refine and master a Mid-west accent. And, how one presents themselves in professional situations says a lot about whether you can trust their judgment. As much as I love my home town of Boston, our native accent and sometimes cold personalities have much to be desired by the rest of the country. And we have Harvard and MIT! Oh so smart maybe, but some feel we are not always easy to connect with.
There are a number of things that today's innovations in artificial intelligence and machine learning do that will provide huge advantages to businesses in terms of customer engagement, competitive advantage, and business efficiencies (Watch for our report on Cognitive Engagement coming out soon). Often we get wrapped up in the shininess of the analytic capabilities. But, voice and personality should not be considered lightly, even if today's experiences have either failed to achieve expected results or feel gimmicky. Personality is what will make the transition and broader adoption of human and machine engagement possible. It makes the engagement with technology more natural and closes the divide in how much effort is needed to take advantage of these new systems and just become part of our world.
It is an aspect of design, something we often take for granted when working the back-office systems of data, content and analytics. But, if you look at how Siri boosted interest and sales of the iPhone 4S, think of what voice and personality will do to lift the outcomes of any number of applied intelligence scenarios.
This is something we need to get right as we explore where IBM Watson and other solutions might be used by the organization. Without forethought into how to create a frictionless engagement between humans, machines, and desired outcomes, investments will have difficulty achieving their full potential no matter what insight they uncover – all due to not being able to relate to the technology.