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Conversation: A major trend in the evolution of the

user interface


   Arguably, the Graphical User Interface (GUI) drove the growth of personal computers by making their use more intuitive. Today, the basics of the WIMP interface (Windows, Icons, Menu, and Pointing device) have transitioned beyond the PC to many other devices and channels—smartphones and web sites being prime examples.

   But the GUI is getting overburdened and less intuitive as it supports an increasing number of features and devices, with problems such as complex and long menus and the need to navigate many pages—each with too many choices—to accomplish a task. The problem is compounded when the interaction is on the small screens of mobile devices and the pointing device is a finger.


   The goal of the Conversational User Interface (CUI) is to transform this complexity into simply “say or type what you want.” Conversational interaction can be essentially the same irrespective of device or application, creating a uniform experience across devices. The conversation is sometimes conducted through a “digital assistant” or a “virtual agent” that may even exhibit an engaging personality. Home speakers and some automotive systems have shown that flexible interaction with digital systems by voice is possible even when a screen isn’t used.


   The CUI has the potential to supersede or at be a major supplement to the GUI of operating systems and web browsers. Today, deep-pocketed companies are competing to provide you a general digital assistant, providing an alternative to connecting with digital systems and services and familiarizing users with the CUI.


   Companies can provide conversational interfaces for customers and employees using tools and services that allow customization of the conversation to the company context. Tool and service vendors provide a means of efficiently and cost-effectively applying conversational technology to your company’s specific needs.


   Currently, every company must have a web site to be found by the search engines. It is quickly becoming similarly necessary for every company to support conversational interaction through the general personal assistants and/or independently.


   Companies that recognize the importance of the CUI trend early will have a competitive advantage. This is particularly true since the technology requires data on how your customer or employee interacts with the system to improve. Companies can thus start modestly, perhaps through using natural language in their IVRs, automated chat on web sites, a bot for one of the messaging services, or a “skill” or “action” for home devices.


   Initial limited efforts can be used to move toward powerful company personal assistants that become part of the company’s brand. A major benefit of even a limited effort is typically a better understanding of your business and your customers.


   It’s also likely that interactive assistants will eventually be a major vehicle for advertising, with the potential for support of their development coming in part from the marketing budget. An “ad” where the customer can ask all the questions they want and can buy the product by simply saying “I’m sold” should have an obvious attraction.


   The CUI is here, and its use and effectiveness will grow exponentially, driven by continuing improvements in basic computer power and cloud computing. Make it an important part of your technology and marketing plans. And let the CI Conference help you understand your options.


William Meisel, President, TMA Associates, and Executive Director, AVIOS, Conference Organizer

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