Wednesday , 18 July 2018
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IDG Contributor Network: The coming evolution of the conversational interface

Last week I wrote on how Cortana and her peers, Apple Siri and Amazon Alexa, were likely to evolve in a VR world to become the primary interface because touch, mice, and keyboards, in a virtual world, make aren’t practical unless you are emulating something that uses them. Because of Cortana’s connection to video gaming, I think it, or she, has an advantage over the others. This is because you can emulate the future in a game and reduce the resistance the change so that when the interface matures people, at least those that have played the game that uses her, will not only be ready for the change they’ll drive it rather than resist it. 

Let’s talk about the likely evolution of the conversational interface and what we learned from Microsoft Bob.

Microsoft Bob

Microsoft Bob (Disclosure:  Microsoft is a client of the Author) was initially created in the mid-1990s to be a computer interface for folks that were intimidated by computers. The ironic thing is that it worked well for that, particularly for retired people who were intimidated by computers they tended to love it. It used friendly looking avatars, kind of extremely crude early versions of a Cortana like interface-emulating talking pets, which the users could interact with. Problem was the folks in Microsoft started to talk about it like it would replace Windows as the next thing, and since we are talking about Cortana doing exactly that, they were kind of right, just around 3 or 4 decades too early. 

I still remember Microsoft giving free copies of Bob with balloons at one of their developer’s conferences, or to exactly the folks that would hate Bob (developers back then didn’t even really like Windows, they wanted a command interface) and found, by the end of the event, the balloons and Bob copies had become attached and most were floating from the ceiling. The developers not only said NO! they said Hell NO! and Bob died a premature death. 

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