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界面设计决定语音交互技术大战成败

过去五年中,触控互动技术大行其道,而接下来的前沿技术则可能是语音界面。借助出色的设计,人们将不再依赖于界面触控操作,而是实现人机直接对话。目前,苹果、谷歌,甚至包括微软在内,不少大公司都在发力,希望在这个领域占据优势地位,而胜出的关键或许就取决于谁能够率先设计出人性化的交互界面。

最具实力的语音服务提供商

    苹果推出Siri服务,试图开发出富有魅力和幽默感的服务项目,从而攻克反馈的难题。这项语音服务具有可识别、具体、人性化的特点。比起同谷歌或微软的设备交谈,与Siri的交流会让人觉得不那么奇怪,原因很简单,我们不习惯于同机器交谈。苹果在广告中为Siri倾力打造的形象显然有助于让人们觉得,同自己的设备对话就如同和一个正常、自然、当然也非常酷的人对话一样。这一点对于将语音交互推向主流是巨大的贡献。不过事实在于,Siri也有自身的缺陷。

    我们不妨将Siri与谷歌的语音服务来进行一下对比。谷歌是科技的殿堂,他们提供的服务就像功利主义的病毒——可靠,高效,有着令人印象深刻的技术,能够设法传播到人们生活中的每个角落。但是它们不太有趣、还有些古怪离奇——这并不是谷歌的特质。谷歌的Voice Search具备其他谷歌产品的所有特质。它在寻找信息时非常实用。不过对大多数用户来说,想要同它交流比同Siri交流还要困难,因为它并不是那么人性化。

    Siri和Voice Search还有另外一个重要区别。Siri希望成为用户解决事务的“助手”,而不仅仅是寻找信息的检索工具。这个发展也许实际上定义了科技在满足我们需求方面的一次重大转型,它的重心从搜索信息转变成为人们解决问题。只有你的助手或者最好的朋友才愿意帮助你达成目标。这种人性化的指导很有价值,也很可能实现,因为他们都很了解你。这个认识也让我们与他们的交流变得更加有趣,更有益处。你不需要时刻告诉他们你的喜好,因为他们都知道。同样地,为了成为你的得力助手,Siri必须拥有情境感知的智能——这是真正棘手的部分。

    Siri已经深深嵌入iOS系统中,在设备定位和日程约会等功能的帮助下,它能够更好地了解用户的意图和相关情况。

    下一级的智能将会源自用户iOS系统中的其他应用。应用程序本身就能让Siri了解到用户的喜好和习惯,不过,如果Siri能够获取一些应用中的信息,它将会变得更加智能。花旗银行(Citibank)的应用会告诉它,你的支出更倾向于哪些方面,支出了多少;美国橄榄球联盟(NFL)的应用会告知它你支持哪只球队;社交网站Facebook和LinkedIn能让它知道你的朋友、工作和同事的信息,而Spotify和网飞(Netfilx)则会告知它,你喜欢什么音乐和电影。想象一下,如果Siri掌握了这一切信息,它的服务质量会有多大提升。

    纽昂斯通讯公司(Nuance Communications)是语音技术领域的行家(也是Siri的技术提供商),该公司最近推出了自己的语音解决方案Nina,似乎准备将应用整合的挑战升级到公司层面。Nina的定位是“移动设备用户服务应用的虚拟助手”,它承诺通过加深对情境的认知,提供更具吸引力的用户体验——因此在架设人机沟通的桥梁上,它比Siri走得更远。通过与手机对话,支付账单等事务将会更加方便。

The loudest voices

    With Siri, Apple (AAPL) is attempting to conquer the feedback issue by designing a service that comes with a charming personality and a sense of humor. This embodiment of Apple's voice service makes it recognizable, tangible, and almost human. Conversing with Siri somehow feels less strange than simply talking to a Google (GOOG) or Microsoft (MSFT) device, simply because we're not used to talking to machines. The vision that Apple puts forward for Siri in its ads certainly helps to make talking to your device as if it were a person seem normal, natural, and of course, cool. This is a big contribution for moving voice interaction into the mainstream, but the reality is that Siri still has her shortcomings.

    Compare this approach to Google's. Google is a temple to technology, and their services tend to be utilitarian viruses – reliable, efficient, technically impressive, and able to find their ways into all corners of people's lives. But they are not fun, quirky, and idiosyncratic – those are not Google traits. Google Voice Search has all the hallmark traits of other Google services. It makes it a great utility for finding things, but the barrier for engagement will still be higher for most people compared with Siri, simply because it's less human.

    There's another key difference between Siri and Google's Voice Search. Siri's promise is to be an "assistant" that helps you get stuff done, not merely a search utility for finding information. This development might in fact come to define a major shift in how technology serves our needs, as the emphasis shifts from finding things to doing things for us. Your partner or best friend tend to help you reach your goals. This human coaching is valued and possible because these people know a lot about you. This knowledge also makes interacting with them pleasurable and rewarding. You don't have to teach them the basics about your preferences all the time, they simply know. In a similar way, in order to become a valuable companion for you, Siri must have contextual smarts – that's the really tricky part.

    Siri is already deeply embedded in iOS, and with the help of information like device location and calendar appointments she aims to better understand the individual's intent and personal context.

    The next level of intelligence could be derived from the apps that reside on your iOS device. Just the app collection itself can give Siri some useful clues about your interests and habits, but she will become much smarter if she can get access to the data from some of the apps. The Citibank (C) app might tell her where you tend to spend money and how much, the NFL app will tell her what football team you support, Facebook (FB) and LinkedIn (LNKD) could tell her about your friends, job, and colleagues, and Spotify and Netflix (NFLX) will tell her what music and movies you like. Imagine how much better she could serve you if she knew all this.

    Nuance Communications, the powerhouse in voice technologies (and the company that helps to power Siri), recently introduced Nina, its own voice solution that appears to be ready to tackle the app integration challenge on an enterprise level. Billed as a "virtual assistant for mobile customer service apps," Nina promises to deliver a more compelling user experience through greater contextual awareness—and therefore a voice assistant that goes further than Siri to bridge the human-computer divide, making tasks like paying bills easy to do just by talking to your mobile phone.

    

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