If you haven’t yet used them, digital assistant services like Cortana help you perform many functions on your mobile phones and PCs/laptops by speaking into the microphone instead of tapping an icon or clicking something on your computer. You can launch applications, you can send text messages, you can even make phone calls by saying “call person”, “person” being the name of the person, set reminders and maintain task lists and so on. The digital assistant either speaks to you directly and gives you an answer, and if the answer does not exist in the database, it launches the default browser and presents you with the search results. With Cortana, you are served bing.com results. With Google Now, you are served Google.com results.
Technology companies want these digital assistants to sound and feel as human as possible. One of the biggest concerns is that they shouldn’t sound like computers.
Sometimes I am double-minded about this. Is it totally necessary that a piece of software should feel like a human being? Do you feel more connected to your mobile phone or PC because it sounds more human? Wouldn’t you rather have a machine behaving like a machine? Where do you draw a line? People have already started treating their machines and pieces of software running on these machines as persons sometimes. What if we start having conversations with our gadgets and prefer to have conversations with our gadgets to having conversations with our family members, friends and peers? I’m not saying that it is an outright bad idea, but is it even a good idea?
This latest Mashable blog post traces the history of the evolution of Microsoft’s Cortana digital assistant that is available on Windows Mobile phones and Windows-10-powered PCs and laptops. The post talks about how the digital assistant was named and how different human-like names were considered before “Cortana” was finalised.
One thing I don’t agree with is, “If it doesn’t have this characteristic of human interaction… It’s harder for someone to visualize, how am I supposed to interact?”
I think when you are using a mobile phone or a PC, you have an idea of who you’re talking to. You know that it is a computer or a mobile phone and it does not have intelligence, it does not have a conscious memory and it does not have feelings, at least not at this juncture of the history of technology.