Manufactured empathy: the next step in AI evolution

As voice computing becomes more ingrained in society, the verbal interface between humans and computers has never been more important.

Read any advert for in-home artificial intelligence and you will be confronted with a list of ‘what’ the technology can do, rather than ‘how’ the computer-to-human interaction makes you feel.

“Control your smart home, play music, get information and more with the Amazon Echo #justask.”

Because, and let’s be honest here, voice computing is still in its infancy – whether from Amazon, Google or Apple. Irrespective of what the manufacturers may tell you, it is perhaps best to think of these products as prototypes for an emerging new reality, rather than finished technologies in their own right.

>See also: Is voice recognition to become part of enterprise authentication?

And as the technology improves, and the ability to process spoken requests becomes ever-more fluid, the issue of interaction-experience will become increasingly relevant for the entire sector: how to deliver, or at least manufacture, empathy between a computer and a human. This is surely the Holy Grail of AI: when it integrates with our humanity, not just our homes.

It is this work stream that could catapult the voice computing sector from useful enabler (ordering our shopping or playing our music), to genuine game-changer, with seismic consequences.

These voice computing technologies are at the sharp end of the technological experience, and could provide far-reaching lessons for many other industries; if not the future development of our species.

Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another – which is seemingly a big ask for many humans, let alone an artificial intelligence. So, are there ways to systematise the process of empathy to deliver a ‘more human than human’ computer experience? And can commercial brands be instrumental in pioneering this verbal engineering as they search for new ways to exploit these new technologies without resorting to crass ‘sales speak’?

If voice is the mouse or trackpad of the future, then it needs to be verbally engineered, just as much as a physical product is ergonomically designed. This requires a much more considered understanding of the target audience and how they want and expect their products and brands to sound. For example, it’s arguable whether your voice-controlled home heating system should talk to you with the same voice, tone or personality as your toaster.

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Additionally, if the computer was able to assess the tone and content of your ‘action’ request, could it assess your likely mood and respond appropriately? The implications for the technology, the brands and the consumer experience are staggering.

It may sound as if this trajectory of the technology is verging on intrusive. However, by designing a more sophisticated verbal analysis into the software, there is no reason that these technologies cannot read the user’s ‘verbal leakage’ for clues as to their underlying psychology.

This process of deep listening is already being used to great effect by the more cutting-edge marketing consultancies to drive the relevance and resonance of their messaging campaigns and consumer conversations.

Verbalisation’s own IP in this area. For example, (RAID: Rapid Audience Insights Diagnostic) uses twenty-four linguistic parameters to better understand language usage, so as to more effectively pattern-match a brand’s language to the specific audience, including their cognition and context.

It is exciting to think that these two delineated areas of business – behavioural marketing and AI software development – may one day merge to deliver an altogether more empathic consumer experience for the voice computing technologies.

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Utilising a more sophisticated methodology to decode the audience in real-time through their language usage, and then encode the computer’s responses in a way that adds genuine value beyond simply fulfilling the functional ‘action’ request.

It is perhaps only when this kind of verbal overlay is applied that in-home AI technologies will genuinely be accepted as welcome houseguests. People can look forward to the day when these AI technologies are sold as much for their personalities as their convenience.


Sourced by Sven Hughes, group CEO of Verbalisation and Global Influence – and the author of Verbalisation: the power of words to drive change

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Nick Ismail

Nick Ismail is a former editor for Information Age (from 2018 to 2022) before moving on to become Global Head of Brand Journalism at HCLTech. He has a particular interest in smart technologies, AI and...