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In 2018, Google CEO Sundar Pichai google duplex assistant demo at the company’s developer conference. The assistant mimicked realistic and nuanced human speech patterns (complete with “ums” and “ahhs”) by making an appointment for a haircut and reserving a table at a restaurant while conversing fluently with a real person.
Although the audience erupted in enthusiastic applause at the achievement, in the Twitter sphere and beyond, observers were quick to question what they were hearing.
Ultimately, the whole episode wasn’t great communication for artificial intelligence or fancy voice technology. But that’s unfortunate because the truth is that voice AI has enormous potential to empower consumers and bring value to companies that deploy it, provided there is a clear understanding of its purpose and limitations. .
Voice AI in the wild
One of the best examples is ordering food.
Skyrocketing inflation has driven up costs for restaurateurs, while labor shortages have prevented them from meeting customer demand (which has been slow to calm down Publish–confinement). Some small restaurants let the phone ring, while some larger ones were even forced to keep the drive-thru clients expectleading to frustration.
So they are increasingly turning to voice technology to take over.
It is quite logical. As long as the voice technology is sophisticated enough – and you might be surprised How? ‘Or’ What clever it is right now – having Voice AI taking an order allows employees to get on with the important work of preparing great-tasting food and ensuring restaurant patrons have an unforgettable experience.
In this scenario, no one is fooled – this type of voice AI tends to declare their non-human status if it’s not already obvious. Customers are happy and service industry professionals are supported, not weakened.
Good service, no servants
So how about this idea: rather than each of us having our own personal humanoid Jeeves (as in the Google Duplex scenario), what if different brands and companies had their own assistants forming a vast ecosystem of voice assistants? In this way, companies could assert their own brand identity and cultivate one-to-one relationships with their customers without intermediaries. For their part, customers could be dealing with a voice AI really knows the goods or services the company has to offer, rather than an Alexa-style assistant trying to navigate its way through.
Restaurant voice assistants, for example, become familiar with the menu. They learn favorite combinations; they can make changes and suggestions; they learn to sell. Why couldn’t this be replicated in the rest of the hospitality, or detail, or even professional services? The answer is: it could, and it is starting to happen.
Rather than thinking about creating intelligent servants of AI, we should start thinking about voice assistants as functional tools that we can repurpose in this way. In the ‘real world’ most of us do not have servants or envoys to negotiate for us, but we do rely on knowledgeable, pleasant and efficient front-line staff. Why not replicate working systems rather than obsolete systems?
I think that’s what we’re going to start doing, and brand and customer experiences will become more vivid and fruitful because of it.
Above all, it is not a question of replacing personnel with an army of voice assistants. It’s about giving employees the time and space they need to focus on critical tasks, streamlining cumbersome ordering systems, and helping businesses increase sales. And it’s also about allowing us, as customers, to step away from screens and devices to order in the most natural and human way we know – with our voices.
Zubin Irani is CRO of SoundHound.
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