Technology is evolving to give everyone the ultimate PA - and here's why they'll be more than just 'robots'

Picture: Marvel

“But the rise of technology will dehumanise us!” I hear you say.

Not necessarily.

If you took out all the technology from your home and your office, what would you be left with? More importantly, how would your daily routine change as a result?

While most people would be left unable to navigate certain tasks without automated assistance, there are also a few that would miss the ‘familiarity’ of the technology they interact with. This is a key element any business, planning to design human-robot interactions, needs to take into account if they want the experience to be truly compelling.

Two technologies that are increasingly assisting their human owners are synthetic companions and Intelligent Digital Assistants (IDAs).

From digital pets to ‘emotionally intelligent’ robots to smart speakers, technology is now at our disposition to live our best professional and personal lives. Human-Robot interactions are only set to become more commonplace. Juniper Research estimates that 275 million voice assistant devices will be used to control smart homes by 2023, up from an estimated 25 million in 2018 – a whopping growth of 1,000 per cent.

In 2016, Ryan Gosling famously announced on Ellen DeGeneres’ show that he intended to buy a companion for his robotic vacuum. When he listens to it cleaning alone in the night, he pities the vacuum’s “tireless” efforts.

“I feel bad for it,” he admitted. And so Gosling reached what is, to him, a reasonable conclusion: “I want to get a Roomba for my Roomba, so it has company.”

This empathy is by no means unusual. It is the psychology of anthropomorphism – attributing human characteristics to non-human objects.

We draw the sun with a happy face and give names to our cars because we maintain a peculiar tendency to ascribe human qualities – such as emotion, fear and ambition – to inanimate objects. We are now starting to control all the parameters of any given interaction to create “relationships”, which, to varying degrees, meet our practical and emotional needs.

Technology has long been connecting us, and we are now asking it to connect with us. We are broadening our notion of what it means to live in an interdependent world where humans are just one part of a broader system that everyone and everything relies on. This has implications on both the user and the business.

Since the birth of the digital assistant, technology has evolved from being primarily transactional to intelligent, to being cognitive.

We need – rather than just want – our smartphone to select express shipping for an emergency birthday present, instead of just informing us with an ETA. If we’ve been looking up ticket prices to a Wiggles show, we’d love Alexa to notify us if they have dropped in price.

We expect technology to understand our behaviour to provide customised responses based on our individual needs.

Our traditional interaction with technology platforms has changed because of the significance of this “user-tech” relationship. The experience doesn’t merely exist – it’s enabled. When Simon or Cathy purchase their new trainers online, they have to manually fill in all their information, including payment details.

This transactional phase is slowly ceasing to exist. Simon and Cathy can now enjoy shopping online in the intelligent phase, where the IDA uses analytics to assess and select the payment mode based on past preferences, available account balance, and minimum transaction cost.

In the future, the IDA will be more like a genie who handles all tasks like a true personal assistant with limited touchpoints. Australians will interact with a powerful digital persona that constructs context from past user experiences to arrive at a suggestion.

But as consumer behaviour changes and evolves, online platforms must evolve with the increased intelligence and visibility of the IDA. Businesses must foresee how new customer touchpoints will re-map organisational processes and technology infrastructure in order to anticipate such revised user needs.

It’s critical that online platform providers reimagine their business models and make necessary changes at the user management and platform architecture levels to remain competitive. This means harnessing data, captured at different touchpoints, such as tracking user journeys, vendor management quality, etc., but also the constant re-evaluation of the application programming interfaces (APIs) they use, aka “API’fication”.

As Intelligent Digital Assistants assume interactions across the user journey, online platforms must expose more of their offerings and services through a set of standardised – and therefore reusable – APIs.

It will promote information transparency, thus making it easier for an IDA to interact and get required information without manual interventions.

Additionally, APIs would bring more agility to the technology development and make the entire process of introducing a new feature faster and more reliable.

Humans, in essence, are social beings. Relationships are at the core of our being. In connecting with and anthropomorphising technology, we might ask ourselves if we are losing something that makes us human.

In fact, we are not. We are only trying to create deeper, more meaningful relationships.

And what could be more human than that?

Denham Pinder is the Head of ANZ at Cognizant

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