Hey Siri, Are We Friends? YOU + Digital Assistants

Claire Evans, host of YOU: Hey Siri. Are we friends?

Siri: I’m your assistant… and your friend, too.

In the latest episode of YOU, a podcast about the intersection of technology, humanity, and identity, brought to you by Okta, host Claire Evans examines how we’ve invited digital assistants, like Siri, Alexa, Cortana and Google Assistant, into our homes and into our lives, from setting alarms, to playing music, to teaching our kids manners. We might to them every day. Claire asks, “In theory, they make our lives easier, but when does an assistant become too embedded in our lives? When does it cross the line and become more than just a helper?”

Normalizing the Future Even just a few years ago, a voice user interface, powered by virtual AI, would have seemed impossibly futuristic. Digital assistants are a powerful example of how quickly a technology can go from being shockingly novel, to being a totally normal part of our everyday lives. And yet, the people building these assistant technologies will tell you it’s still quite early days. Claire talks in depth in this episode with Lilian Rincon, Director of Product Management for Google Assistant, who predicts a future where Assistant can operate more proactively. Lilian offers the example of how right now she has a weekly reminder to set up a date night with her husband. “The Assistant in the future could actually suggest, ‘Well, actually, would you like me to look up one of the favorite restaurants that you have and actually make a reservation for you? Text the babysitter for you?’” she says. “Imagine an Assistant that can actually be truly helpful to the task that you're trying to get done rather than just taking a note.”

Please and Thank You… and I Love You? Claire and Lilian talk about how people relate to their voice assistants, especially the level of courtesy and respect they show. Claire often thanks Siri, explaining, “I know that it's not like the assistant appreciates me being thankful, but I do enjoy stepping into this collaborative role play game with the assistant where I extend the conversation.”

Claire is not the only one to treat a digital assistant like a person, even though, well, it’s not a person. As one ‘woman in the street’ interviewed briefly in the episode says, “It's weird, I guess because {your digital assistant} talks back to you but, no, it's definitely not a person. It's not a robot. I don't even know how to describe it.”

Lilian notes that in the research her team has conducted, lots of people, especially kids and seniors, appreciate having “multi-turn” conversations, including using human speaking conventions like saying “please” and “thank you.” Lilian says, “It's not about actions, it's not about performing a call or doing other things that it can do, but just literally this act of having a conversation with this Assistant is something that they value.”

And if telling your digital assistant “please” and “thank you” isn’t enough to build some semblance of a relationship with your voice virtual AI, there’s always “I love you.” Lilian shares, “We found that over one million people a month say ‘I love you’ to the Google Assistant, which we thought was kind of cute and fascinating.”

Claire maintains that the intimate way we interact with voice user interfaces is incredibly different – and incredibly telling – from any other type of user interface. Why? Because “{voice interaction} is such a human point of contact. That's as close as it gets to the real self, the unmediated self, the part of ourselves that's not necessarily being curated and projected for social media or for the workplace.”

There’s even more insight in the full episode, and we hope you enjoy it.

Listen now to episode six, “Digital Assistants: Reflection of YOU." You can get this episode here: https://www.youpodcast.co/episodes/six/

Want more YOU? Go back to episode one, all about online dating, “Algorithm of My Heart: YOU +1.”