Back to “human”

by Vasso Pouli, CEO at Commit

This is not a usual newsletter entry, it will not be about a specific localization subject nor a very informative or educational one. It is more of a ‘putting-my-thoughts-to-writing’ piece which however are open for questioning and debate by you, the readers.

There were two instances that sparked this idea, a funny one and a rather sad one; but let me start with the funny one and see whether we will get to the sad one.

For those of you who don’t know me, I have a rather strong-minded but cute 3-year-old daughter whose Christmas gift request was ‘Chatty’, a robot penguin. Well, Chatty has a pre-installed set of instructions which it acknowledges using voice recognition SW and acts accordingly. Chatty is a nice penguin with very funny responses and pre-recorded messages and every time we turned it on, we had a blast, but that was only as long as an adult voiced the instructions, i.e. when Chatty said ‘I am hungry’, we said ‘Eat’ and then there were a bunch of funny chewing sounds and Chatty thanking us for its delicious dinner and asking for a drink, and you can imagine how the story goes… But everything fell apart when my daughter wanted to boss it around being the one to be voicing the orders. At the age of 3, well… let’s just say that she has not yet mastered the art of clear articulation, and instead of ‘Stop’ she uttered ‘thtop’ or thought that it would be nice of her to add its name in the question i.e. ‘How are you, Chatty?’ or be even nicer and ask politely by adding ‘please’ in the order. Chatty was having trouble understanding her and either said, very successfully I may add, that she did not make sense or that she had not eaten her food and she did not speak loud or clear enough. At first, she was troubled and insisted, but then she was concerned, then angry because she could not understand why being polite did not have the expected outcome in this case nor what she was saying wrong when she uttered ‘thtop’ instead of ‘stop’. So now poor Chatty sits deactivated on the top shelf of her drawer wishing, I imagine, it could interact more or better with her, as this would be more fun. Right, Chatty…?

And you are probably wondering why I am saying all this… Well, we are in the era of Amazon deliveries with drones and instant service, we interact with machines all the more often, probably much more than we do with people, and we have a reason for doing so; it is easier, it is transactional, it is quick, so quick we have no time to actually mentally process it, and this makes it automatic. And automation is good, it saves us time, it frees our hands from the mundane and procedural tasks supposedly allowing us to deal with the more creative and challenging ones. But are we up to the task? This would require inspiration, interpersonal interaction and cooperation. How can we achieve this when we expect humans to communicate in a pre-conditioned manner and we condition both our words and our actions in order to trigger the expected outcome?

At the end of the day, when neither of the recorded options in a voice service suits our question, when our instantly generated invoice has the wrong information, when we accidentally press the wrong button and everything crashes, when we want a cafe latte with double shot of espresso, low fat milk, Stevia instead of sugar and a straw -even though it is  a hot drink-, we need to talk to a person, to an actual human being. Only they can be insightful, flexible, creative and add meaning and value to our interaction, and only then can we be genuine, can we be ourselves, even if we may not utter clearly enough or even if we are more verbose or polite than what would be expected.

We are all striving for a leaner, more automated and streamlined workflow, but what if we strived for more meaningful human interactions, where every ‘ping’ has its equal and corresponding ‘pong’ instead of the same mundane stereotypical preconditioned automated ‘ping’, ‘ping’, ‘ping’.

And why don’t we leave the sad story for another time?

What do you think?

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