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...
Sina Kahen is a positive and energetic guy.
Only once during his podcast interview does he express exasperation. And that’s when he thinks about businesses wanting a chatbot or voice interaction interface without considering the reasons why.
Sina is a voice strategist and owner of voice strategy consultancy Vaice. Based in the U.K., Sina is big on understanding the ‘Why’ behind a business's desire to implement a voice interface.
“Some businesses do think that voice is the cure to everything,” he observes.
“It kind of reminds me of when the microwave came out. It was like: ‘You don’t need an oven, you don’t need fire anymore. Just chuck it in the microwave and it will do everything.”
Sina says that many businesses think this way because the voice community initially pushed the voice-first message. Not web first, not mobile first, but voice first.
What makes a great conversational interface?
Keri Roberts is uniquely qualified to answer this question. She is a branding specialist and content marketing professional who also develops conversational interfaces.
With Keri’s expertise in branding, she is able to quickly identify a brand’s voice and how that voice can be best presented in an interface.
Keri says she has spoken to others in conversation design and one of the things that comes up often is cultural nuances and differences in languages.
“This is a big reason why people who are in linguistics come into conversational design – this idea that you could say something in English and say it in Japanese, for example, and you're saying the same thing but the tones are different,” she explains.
“With your interface, if it's something that is speaking, does it have that tone correct?” she asks. “We're really thinking about not...
If you have a left-brain-right-brain thing happening, a way of thinking that allows you to engage creatively and logically - chances are you will excel at conversational design, also known as voice interaction design.
Many people who enter that conversational design have the advantage of left-brain-right-brain thinking, although this isn’t essential to succeed in this field. .
Most of all, Curiosity is the key to success for a career in conversational design, says Rebecca Evanhoe, a conversational designer based in Brooklyn, New York.
“Be curious and be interested in teaching yourself,” she says.
In a recent podcast interview, Rebecca said: “An example of that is I don’t have a linguistics background. I never studied it, but it’s really important to understand how people talk to each other, so that’s something I have studied on my own.”
Rebecca’s career in voice tech began with a plane trip from...
Did you know people are hard-wired to anthropomorphize?
It’s true. I usually talk to my plants. I will say something like “Tommy, you look stylish today.” That’s a compliment I bestow on my finest-looking tomatoes. “Buds, did you miss me?” I ask my basil sprouts. When one of them slows down or seems on the verge of dying, I ask them, “What’s your issue?”
There is a perfectly rational explanation for our tendency to anthropomorphize. Not only is it reasonable, but it’s also intelligent.
When we anthropomorphize inanimate objects — naming cars, seeing faces in street signs, greeting our couches and beds — we are forming bonds with them, impressing our concept of bonding onto them. It is the same reason that we will describe a dog as “friendly” and a storm of “vengeful.” We ask our lawnmowers why they always have to aggravate us, and we wonder how snow always...