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Do voice assistants deserve more trust from humans?

Techly's Guest Post Series
Voice control has come a crazy long way. Siri is almost ubiquitous now, and voice assistants are a dime a dozen. Alexa. Google Assistant. Cortana. Bixby. They’re everywhere, and they have a varying degree of value, success and worth.

The thing is, we’re missing one key element.

The biggest obstacle between voice assistants and people actually get stuff done is the paradigm shift that’s required to go from having a voice assistant to actually trusting one. That’s a big change. For those of us who have been using technology since voice assistants like Siri came along, we’ve become used to the fail rate.

It’s a fail rate that’s dropping, sure. But we’ve become used to the errors that about in many of these assistants. For example, try asking Siri where your next calendar event is. Then try telling it to take you there. It’s just not going to happen. Those failures are small, and for the most part these voice assistants actually do a pretty good job.

But when a promotion for a new voice assistant, like this demo of Bixby, users are instantly suspicious. Surely it can’t be that successful. It has to get things wrong!

But just one error – however simple – has a major impact. It breaks down trust and allows for hesitation, rather than allowing the assistant the space to learn about the user’s habits. When you pull out Siri, or when you speak to your Google Home and you have that little sense of doubt that tells you it could be more trouble than it’s worth, you’re much less likely to want to go through with it.

This is generational, to some extent. Younger users are much less likely to be untrustworthy of assistants. One of my team members at Zova has a 4-year-old who use Siri on their Dad’s phone to call Mum for permission when Dad says no to dessert.

The lack of interface and the ease of use that voice assistants represent are clearly the way forward. They’re the best option for innovation right now. The mass adoption of the Amazon Echo is an example of that, as user interaction increases with the refined skills and human-like qualities of home-based assistants. But it’s not going to reach critical mass until the shift towards trust can happen on a wider scale.

Jon Westenberg is part of the Apple Design Award-winning team behind the Zova app, which is making fitness more accessible and user-oriented than ever before. In fact, the team has been building Siri integration right into the Zova app to allow folks to run their workouts with a voice assistant.

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