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Is Conversational UX the future of the web?

By Ben Moss Posted Apr. 22, 2016 Reading time: 2 minutes

One of the biggest buzz phrases at the moment is “Conversational UX”. It refers to a user experience in which your interaction with a company, or service, is automated based on your prior behavior.

Contrary to the implication in the title, a conversational UX doesn’t have to be a literal conversation, the term refers to back and forth interaction in which both parties come to understand each other.

Most current conversational user experiences are based around small snippets of micro-copy. In a conversational user experience, you’ll never need to understand the hamburger menu, because there won’t be one, the app—web, or native—will simply adapt to your inquiries. And if device operating systems follow suit, you may not even download apps, your OS will simply determine which apps and services to use on your behalf, based on prior usage.

The economic reality is that any task that can be automated, will be automated

A conversational UX is more responsive than any existing app or site. A conversational UX can have the same interaction as a million call centers, without the need for hold music, security questions, or checking with its supervisor. A conversational UX doesn’t need onboarding and won’t suffer the same drop-off rates as apps, because it will adapt to the user’s (or programmer’s) needs. The economic reality is that any task that can be automated, will be automated.

The one weakness of a conversational UX is that we don’t trust AI. Trust is a core value of any successful user experience. Connecting on an emotional level is the ultimate tool of most design processes; one of the reasons the term “UX” has outgrown “UI” is that the former implies empathy, the latter implies mere utility. Whether it’s a luddite’s aversion to new technology, or too many ‘80s sci-fi movies, we always suspect an ulterior motive. As Ripley discovered, behind every Bishop there’s a Weyland-Yutani.

So we might allow a conversational UX to buy our weekly groceries for us, but would we let one buy our clothes? Book our vacation? Select our college major?

we like robots that can be readily identified as robots

We’re talking about conversational UX now, because the bots that power it are reaching the point of viability. No, they can’t pass the Turing Test, but they really don’t need to. In fact, the current obvious flaws in AI may be precisely what powers the bot revolution.

Conversational UX is so flawed at present, that mistaking a bot for a human is tantamount to being outwitted by a lamppost. The time is ripe for conversational UX, precisely because we can still identify it for what it is; we don’t feel deceived. As Asimov predicted, we like robots that can be readily identified as robots.

The key to conversational UX may be a transparently bot-like personality. Ironically, the most successful conversational UX may be the one that learns to act dumb.

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