So. Why don't people talk to invisible robots in public?

Some questions just answer themselves

Wilson: Who's Harvey?
Miss Kelly: A white rabbit, six feet tall
Wilson: Six feet?
Elwood P. Dowd: Six feet three and a half inches. Now let's stick to the facts

A shock survey that nobody could possibly have anticipated reveals that people don’t want to talk to an invisible rabbit robot when they’re out in public.

The survey quizzed two sets of over 1,000 early technology adopters in the UK and the USA over their use of imaginary friends – aka voice-activated personal digital assistants – including Siri, Cortana and Google Now. The survey shows high awareness of the assistants and high takeup when in a car, but only six per cent use them at work, and only 1.3 per cent use them in public.

A fifth of non-users cited embarrassment as their prime reason for not quizzing a disembodied voice.

The shock is really no shock at all, of course. Academic research into the topic by psychologists has confirmed as much. And embarrassment may not even be the biggest inhibition.

Research published in 2014 and co-authored by a Samsung researcher now at Google and Microsoft's Kim-Phuong Vu, showed that users needed to feel their environment was private before using a “VAPDA” such as Siri. It gets more interesting.

Even then, privacy concerns were paramount. Yet there is no more or less privacy talking to a VAPDA than there is typing into Google. To the user, however, the voice assistant "feels" less private. By talking, the user is bringing with them the context of a social situation, where people can eavesdrop, or get annoyed.

Practical considerations also come into play: the quality of speech recognition falls dramatically in a noisy public environment. At one time any one-sided conversation was considered intrusive, but is now generally socially acceptable. However, the declarative speech required using a Siri or Google Now may never cross that threshold.

Which means that all that money being poured into AI-powered speech recognition may not get the return on investments its backers hope.

More here. ®


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