Roger Kibbe’s world changed after using the Echo Dot. He immediately saw the possibilities for voice-enabled devices and their ability to cut through the clutter of getting tasks accomplished.
He became a passionate proponent for voice technology and the veteran technology consultant left his cushy corporate job and founded a voice product startup and a voice consulting firm.
Later, he signed on with Viv Labs, the original developer of Apple’s Siri software. Viv Labs was acquired by Samsung and developed the Bixby voice platform used in Samsung devices. Roger is currently a Senior Developer Evangelist for Viv Labs.
What does voice technology offer users that “normal” technology does not?
Roger believes voice-enabled technology offers a way to interact with devices without that interaction becoming distracting.
“This is really groundbreaking, for what I've been talking about for so many years, because it lets me get something done. And...
A wealth of knowledge and experience along with a diverse background has enabled Renée Cummings to pursue work in ethics in AI.
She has experience in criminology, criminal psychology, substance abuse therapy, therapeutic jurisprudence, and journalism—to name just a few areas.
Today, Renée is the Data Activist in Residence at the University of Virginia. She looks at the influence of big data policing on underserved or high-needs communities and is also working to create a tool that will: “Build communities up and support the interface and interaction between community stakeholders.
“I think the diversity of my background is what brought me into AI,” Renée shares. “I started to look at the risk assessment tools that were being used in the criminal justice system, and how these algorithmic decision-making systems work, are really misbehaving when it came to the administration of justice.”
The need for ethical guardrails
Philip Hunter’s work in voice technology can be traced back to the early 90s, when he first started a developer job that involved interactive voice response. Among other roles, Phillip moved on to work with early versions of Microsoft’s Cortana before he was recruited to work with Alexa’s developer-focused skills kit.
Since then, Phillip has expanded his work to include chatbots and has founded CCAI (Conversational Collaborative AI) Services. Phillip specializes in strategy, design, and AI-powered optimization.
The importance of voice analytics
Phillip explains that every software’s goal is to go live. However, conversational AI systems must demonstrate that they are working well. To measure this, analytics need to occur. Aspects of performance, such as user engagement and monthly usage, are looked at to judge whether set goals are achieved.
No matter how well-designed software is, there will always be unpredictable errors that must be addressed....
Hans van Dam has always possessed a creative side and a will to innovate. Once an aspiring novelist, he later copywrote for big tech companies. After a startup company failed, Hans moved on to work in customer service before shifting his focus to chatbots. Through his later work, Hans learned voice design and began to dream even bigger. He eventually started a company with the goal of training and certifying designers from around the world. Today, Hans is the co-founder and CEO of the Conversation Design Institute.
Certification and training
Despite some early skepticism, the Conversation Design Institute has thrived as the need for training has grown. Hans sees a need for more structure across job titles, skillsets, and team interactions in his industry, and one of his goals is to improve alignment in these areas.
The institute currently recognizes and provides certification for three different roles: AI trainers, conversational designers, and conversational copywriters. AI...
Like many leaders in the industry, Ananya Sharan didn’t start her career in voice technology. After working as a software engineer and then attending business school to become a banker, Ananya realized that her true passion was technology and product management. Today, Ananya is the product manager for Pandora’s Voice Mode, an innovative, mobile-only voice assistant that helps users discover and listen to new music with ease.
What is Pandora?
Pandora is the largest audio-streaming platform in the US. The company is best known today for providing users with personalized audio recommendations. Pandora is able to accomplish this thanks to the Music Genome Project, which annotates each song track in a catalogue. Music experts also listen to the tracks to characterize them and give them multiple attributes. This data is then leveraged to understand what should be played next or recommended for users.
The inspiration behind Voice Mode
Ananya explains that Voice...
As a natural language understanding (NLU) expert with a PhD in linguistics, Deborah Dahl brings unique insight into the role that her field plays in voice technology.
Deborah has always had a keen interest in both language and computers, so it’s no wonder that she found computational linguistics appealing. Since starting her work in the early 80s, she has seen enormous changes take place.
“The things that we could never do in 1985 or so, because they took too long, that's not a problem now,” she states. “It's actually really kind of a synergetic or synergistic cycle where the computers get better and then the technology catches up, and then the computers get even better.”
What is natural language understanding?
Deborah defines natural language understanding as “taking the natural language, the kind of language that they use between people, and turning that into some kind of a format that a computer can do something with … the...
When Jason Gilbert started filmmaking school, he envisioned a career path that was much different from his eventual work as an AI conversational designer. Yet, when he responded to an ad for an interactive screenwriter, Jason found himself in this unexpected role.
Stumbling into conversational design
“They just didn't know what to call it five years ago, because it wasn't even a profession,” Jason explains. “I kind of like stumbled into it. And I think if you ask a lot of conversation designers how they got into conversation design, they'll say, ‘I just stumbled into it somehow.’’”
In Jason’s case, the company he joined had recently partnered with Disney Accelerator to bring the first chatbots to Facebook Messenger. Jason’s team was tasked with creating a chatbot that emulated the infamous Miss Piggy.
Jason had a special fondness for this particular character, having been a big fan of The Muppets growing up. “Miss Piggy,...
As a voice designer with a background in linguistics and neuroscience, Brielle sees a promising future in bringing voice-first interfaces to the forefront in her field.
The instinctive art of conversation
Before she entered the field of voice technology, Brielle was already fascinated by language; she often noticed how people said things and thought about why they may express themselves in a particular way.
“That’s really what linguistics is,” Brielle explains. “Becoming a ‘pattern identifier’ is one of the most important things we do.”
In college, Brielle was able to observe these patterns in greater detail. She took a class dedicated to analyzing videos of every day interactions, often as straight-forward as those between a customer and a storekeeper. This experience gave Brielle a greater appreciation for the complexities of human interaction.
“There are all these amazing ways that we communicate that we don’t even think...
From a young age, there were indicators that Dr. Joan Palmiter Bajorek would take on a leadership role. Classmates teased that she was going to be a CEO. Later, her academic advisors predicted that she wouldn’t be “in the trenches” for long; she was destined to manage teams of her own.
Bringing more voices to the table
Today, Joan is the CEO of Women in Voice, an international non-profit focused on bringing women and gender minorities into the exciting field of voice technology.
With a Masters in linguistics and a PhD in speech language technology, Joan is well-versed in the complexities and rewards of leading within her industry.
But there have also been setbacks along the way—Joan founded her non-profit after a troubling experience at Voice Summit, which was eye-opening in its lack of gender diversity. Joan viewed the experience as a “slap in the face” to her entire field. She was troubled thinking about the many people who must have...
“Without a doubt, it’s an exciting time to enter the voice design industry”, enthuses Brooke Hawkins, a conversational designer based in Detroit, Michigan.
“The field is being shaped as it is growing,” she explains. “And a lot of the technology is new and exciting.”
An example is smart speakers, which have proliferated in recent years. With these devices, a user can search the internet for anything they can imagine.
Smart speakers can check home security, turn on lights, or turn up the heat in a home.
Says Brooke: “The decisions that people are making right now in conversational design are really important, not only in terms of shaping our relationships with smart speakers, but our relationships with one another.”
Many projects conversational designers work on are complicated and will appeal to anyone who enjoys a complex challenge.
In addition, conversational design...
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