Intelligent Interfaces Become Reality
Combining human-centered design techniques with leading-edge technologies, new interfaces are transforming human interactions with machines and unlocking exciting business opportunities.
Today, people are interacting with technology through ever more intelligent interfaces. Touch screens and voice commands are two popular options, and even these engagement patterns are giving way to more seamless and natural methods. For example, using cameras, sensors, and computer vision, a retailer can track and analyze shoppers’ store movements, gazes, and behavior to identify regular customers and gauge their mood. By cross-analyzing the information with these customers’ purchase histories, the retailer can push promotions in real time to shoppers’ mobile devices—or, in the not-too-distant future, likely predict needs based on a customer’s subconscious behavior and pre-emptively place an order on her behalf.
This is only the beginning. Thermal-imaging technologies can detect changes in shoppers’ heart rates. A variety of wearables ranging from today’s smartwatches to tomorrow’s augmented-reality (AR) goggles can capture a wearer’s biofeedback. Real-time smartphone data can alert retailers that customers are checking online to compare prices for a specific product, perhaps suggesting dissatisfaction with store pricing, product selection, or layout. During the next two years, more B2C and B2B companies will likely embrace aspects of this growing intelligent interfaces trend.
Today, popular mass-market products such as Amazon’s Alexa, Google Assistant, Apple’s Siri® voice recognition software,¹ and Microsoft’s Cortana are the most widely deployed intelligent voice-user interfaces. Voice use cases are also proliferating in warehouse, customer service, and field operation deployments, where technicians are armed with a variety of voice-enabled wearables and can interact with company systems and staff without having to hold a phone or printed instructions. Likewise, more organizations are exploring opportunities to incorporate voice dialogue systems into employee training to increase program speed and effectiveness.
Meanwhile, solutions harnessing the power of advanced sensors, internet of things (IoT) networks, computer vision, analytics, and AI are gaining ground. They feature, among other capabilities, computer vision, gesture control devices, embedded eye-tracking platforms, bioacoustic sensing, emotion detection/recognition technology, and muscle-computer interfaces. Soon, this list also may include emerging capabilities such as brain-controlled interfaces, exoskeleton and gait analysis, volumetric displays, spatial computing, and electrovibration sensing.
Intelligent interfaces offer B2C and B2B opportunities in several areas:
Tracking customers’ offline habits. Mobile phones are the most ubiquitous intelligent interface today. Thanks to tracking functionality, service providers can tell whether, for instance, an individual is repeatedly visiting a certain restaurant or spending a lot of time at the beach and can then push offers for discounted beverages or sunscreen. As smart glasses and digital reality become more widely accepted, those same offers could appear in one’s field of vision upon arrival at the establishment or the beach. In other words, consumers can expect companies to learn much more about their habits, routines, tastes, and experiences.
‘With intelligent interfaces, human bodies become the instruments for creating commands, with users wearing devices that constantly track movements, voices, and gazes. Human-centered design skills will likely be more important than ever to IT organizations.’
New products and solution sets. Understanding customers at a personal, detailed level will make it possible to micro-personalize products and services. For example, emotion sensors can detect when humans are experiencing stress via such physiological signals as rising blood pressure and shallow breathing. In response, an enterprising health services provider could build an application that helps users manage their emotions. If the user is online, perhaps the app creates a distraction to help delay an immediate—and ill-considered—email response. In another setting, it might create a digital distraction to help the user remove herself from the immediate situation. With intelligent interfaces, such opportunities become infinite.
Efficiency. As organizations begin integrating sensors and real-time feedback into their operations, they will likely face challenges in increasing efficiency without micromanaging workers. Many workers might be troubled by the prospect of wearing employer-mandated AR goggles or other forms of mechanical augmentation to perform their jobs. Yet their discomfort may be short-lived, and resistance to smart glasses and monitored work environments will likely wane as employees acclimate to new modes of human-machine interaction and see how augmentation can help them work more efficiently.
Considerations for the IT Organization
To embrace intelligent interfaces, an effective strategy for data—prioritizing it, breaking it apart, processing it, and disseminating it to systems and network devices—may become imperative. Considering the need to swiftly traffic data within and between systems, IT leaders will likely look to the kind of bandwidth 5G offers. Moreover, with intelligent interfaces, real time means real time—any lag could cause users to grow impatient and abandon the interaction. It may be necessary to move data and AI-driven decision-making to the cloud or the edge of the organization and dynamically prioritize what is processed. In addition, data inputs from vast networks of sensors in a user’s surrounding environment will feed contextual information into AI systems—so building, maintaining, and expanding IoT capabilities could be near the top of every CIO’s priority list.
New skill sets will be crucial as well. With intelligent interfaces, human bodies become the instruments for creating commands, with users wearing devices that constantly track movements, voices, and gazes. Human-centered design skills will likely be more important than ever to IT organizations. These include, for example, people with medical backgrounds who understand the way bodies function and process stimuli, linguists who offer insight into what constitutes an effective voice conversation for humans, and physical therapists who bring expertise to the development and use of haptic technologies. In addition, technology generalists or “connectors,” who understand intelligent interface technologies and how they interact with each other, will play an important role in deploying these tools in combinations to fuel growth.
Intelligent interfaces offer an opportunity to fundamentally reimagine the way humans interact with technology, information, and their surroundings. To say this trend is potentially disruptive would be an understatement—simply put, it represents the next great technology transformation, and leaders not already exploring the role that voice, computer vision, and other interfaces will play in their companies’ future are already late to the game.
—by Allan V. Cook, managing director; Jonathan Berman, senior manager; and Jiten Dajee, specialist senior, Deloitte Consulting LLP
Next up in this weeklong series focused on 2019 Tech Trends: “Volumetric Storytelling: A Blockbuster in the Making.”