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Saying Goodbye To Screens Altogether:

How Google’s Assistant Is Ushering Us Into a New Era of Design.

 

While IoT was a term coined in 1999 and its buzz has been building since then, Google and the world’s focus on A.I. marks a tectonic shift in technology, and I believe we’re looking at the dawn of something incredibly impactful.

After Google’s hardware event last week where the tech giant unveiled Assistant, the artificially intelligent helper that caters to your every whim and powers your every interaction, the conversation in both the media and our office is what happens as A.I. moves from the labs to our living rooms? Beyond ethical considerations — or celebrating only the nerd part of it — how can we inject a stronger humanistic thinking element to design and develop algorithms and interfaces for A.I. that can co-habitate with people and in social (including crowded) spaces? The race is on, and who is going to win has a lot do with hardware design.

Our Story

A few years ago, the Colorify team was tasked with building a home sensor that could gather data including the temperature inside and outside, level of air pollution, and humidity, with the goal to help people make their residences more energy-efficient and healthy. For the full story of Sensorfy Hygro please check out this post.

We started with a smartphone app that gathered data from sensors, showed current figures, built lovely charts, and sent notifications was the heart of the system. But when we started testing the first prototype in our homes, it occurred to us that this initial idea, specifically the app interface, had flaws.

It’s much more natural and efficient to glance over at a sensor on the wall, just as people have done for decades. Ultimately, we repurposed the app to aid in system setup, and to send alerts only if something went wrong, the exact opposite of the original plan.

Of course, we weren’t the only people who had come to the conclusion to keep it simple. Not long before that, Samsung designer Golden Krishna, hit the nail on the head in his SXSW keynote speech, when he told the audience that “our love for the digital interface is out of control” and “the best interface is no interface.”

Design has moved in this direction with products like Amazon’s Alexa or Apple’s Siri, and ultimately culminated last week with Google’s debut of Assistant.

 

How Design Humanizes Technology

Good designers humanize technology by creating experiences that bridge the gap between us and machines. In an order to garner maximum attention, both apps and hardware can seem to control our lives rather than add to them, but designers are starting to question the status quo. If you want to come up with great design, you need to ask the right questions and approach problems without a pre-existing agenda.

Tim O’Reilly wrote a great piece about how the development of AI has provided a new opportunity for design. He writes that, “virtually every consumer device developer – should be rethinking their user interfaces in light of the Echo’s success, asking themselves What Would Alexa Do? I’ve continued to think about the impact of speech user interfaces, and it’s become clear to me that Alexa challenges the very foundations of today’s mobile operating systems.“

 

The Race is On

The giants lining up to win us over in the next technological revolution will do so through AI and design, and this will dramatically impact the way we interact with machines.

Old design paradigms and architectures no longer apply, and soon we will say goodbye to screens altogether. Google is embedding AI into hardware and pushing ahead even more boldly. That benefits consumers and will eventually drive meaningful innovation to deliver seamless and ubiquitous assistant services.

I firmly believe that we will (and should) free ourselves from tapping screens to play a song or make a call.  We will see myriad approaches for AI to listen wherever you are. This explains why Google suggests placing a Home in every room. Your players will need the access points to feel ubiquitous. Today, your primary access point is probably your phone, and your home is among the few places where it may not be at your side.

It is likely that you are sporting an Echo in your family room. But how can they convince you to sprinkle access points around at your home so you may seamlessly summon the Assistant wherever you want, for whatever you want, whenever you want? It comes down to a great voice interface.

A personal (hardware-based) web of devices with contextual awareness and access to the knowledge graph is the first step to a truly useful virtual assistant.

Hello Google, hello brand new world.