Why Chatbots Are More Important Than You Think.

Conversational Interfaces Are The Most Human

When a human child is born, what are the two most important milestones in their lives? First, they walk, thus proving that they are physically human, and the second, arguably more important one, to talk. The ability to talk, to converse, to vocally and visually interact with other humans, is very important to being human.

Conversation, simple talking, has been around since homo sapiens stood upright. Even at the very beginning, even before formal language, early humans used speech and gestures in order to communicate and converse. One might even say that “I am human, therefore I converse”.

Conversation, discussion, and feedback are key in the development of children into normal human adults, and the maintenance of sanity among adults (for some). The mechanisms of discussion, the speaking and responding, are so powerful, that they permeate our world. They are the roots of everything from music to social networks.

As a child of the 80s, one of my favorite bands was the Talking Heads, but I never really got deeply into them until the album Remain In Light. Prior to that album, the band was what I would call, “near-punk” not quite as pessimistic and violent, but spare and geeky, something that appealed to my outsider teenage soul. To my ears, they were good, but not great.

That is until they decided to completely convert (or some may say subvert) the bands sound by heavily layering in African beats, musicians, and instruments, in the tradition of African musicians like Fela Kuti. It went from a spare foursome of vocals, lead and bass guitar, and drums, to rich, multilayered tapestry of sound. I must have listened to that so often I’m sure that I went through a number of turntable needles. I had to know more about this amazing sound.

To get more info, I read that the group was inspired to research and integrate African rhythms into the music after reading a book called African Rhythms and African Sensibility. Being the new wave music geek that I was at the time, I bought this book and read it myself – and I learned a number of interesting things about music which I’d never known before – the key insight being that most African music, and most music in general, is, in reality, a conversation, and the call and response can be heard in almost all music (if your ears are attuned to listen for it).

Just like conversations we have from childhood, “call and response” runs not only throughout all music, human beings respond to a conversation in general. Humans are social creatures and we primarily communicate through conversation. It’s in everything we do – we tell stories to an audience, expecting responses in laughter, applause, and even groans. We post photos, podcasts, and videos, hoping for some response, good or bad. We live for comments and feedback. One of the worst possible outcomes of posting a blog post, podcasts, a photo on Instagram of a video on YouTube is likes and comments. Getting zero views, likes and comments can be as painful to us conversation craving humans as physical pain.

One could argue that conversation is the most prevalent and important method of communication for the human race – it runs through everything we do.

So its surprising to me that it has taken so long for us to realize that a conversational interface with our machines is not the absolute best interface for almost everything. While I understand that technology is only now beginning to become available to allow us to develop truly useful conversational interfaces, I fully believe that these interfaces will become the future of all interfaces.

With its close ties to being human, conversational interfaces will become the most natural way in which to interface with any machines, for any purpose. These interfaces will start simple (as they are today) but, with enough sophisticated artificial intelligence and predictive analytics behind them, they will not only become our interface to everything, they will be able to proactively assist us at the exact moment that we need assistance, and contextually be able to truly become our helpers and guides (instead of the sometimes annoying, half-deaf and sometimes full dumb machines of today, and you know who I’m talking about, Alexa!).

Conversational interfaces – for entertainment, directing devices, shopping, and e-commerce, calendaring and scheduling, detecting emotions and proactively providing services – will become the most important interface in the near future, and beyond.

The interface of the future is conversational and as such, human.