User experience and Intelligent User Interfaces

Posted on Jan 22, 2009 by in artificial intelligence, customer experience | 0 comments

Intelligent User Interface
looks cool! sharp! amazing! … useful?

The importance of the user interface in AI has been highly considered for many years. This field is commonly called Intelligent User Interface (IUI):

Intelligent User Interfaces are human-machine interfaces that aim to improve the efficiency, effectiveness, and naturalness of human-machine interaction by representing, reasoning, and acting on models of the user, domain, task, discourse, and media (e.g., graphics, natural language, gesture).

Wikipedia – User Interface

Science fiction puts an extreme focus on IUI due to its visual aspect and often tends to take advantage of the lack of technical knowledge of their audience to imply that a big part of AI is coming from the surface and not from intelligent back-end algorithm doing most of the work but which are difficult to show. We cannot really blame them, as, for most, their public has no real technical interest and simply wants to be entertained.

In reality, the field of IUI does addresse all the not-yet-mainstream communication ways (voice recognition, text to speech, etc.) , but is not limited to it in any way and most of the commercial R&D efforts focus more on how to make traditional user interfaces (like a desktop application or a web site) include more intelligence in to improve usability (more efficient, more intuitive, more personalized, etc.).

In that logic, the User Experience is a key aspect of IUI, as one of the main goals of the domain is to provide a better User Experience, impossible to provide with traditional methods (either by using new types of communications and interactions or by adapting the display of content and functionalities).

Let me give some examples to illustrate what I mean:

    A person is driving his car following the instruction of his GPS. He needs to zoom out to have a better global view of where he is. He says “zoom out” and the GPS, understanding his request, execute the action. In this case, the innovation comes solely from the voice communication with its GPS instead of the touch-screen. However is is not a new function as the zoom out is an omnipresent standard button.
    A person buys a cell phone and starts using it. After a certain amount of time, the system has been able to adjust the content of the menu, the size of the user controls and even anticipate the order in which he most frequently accomplishes tasks. It detects when he uses the touch-screen with its fingers or the pen and propose different types of input control accordingly. In this case, the innovation does not come from the communication as all controls and interactions are standard, but from the way these are adapted to optimize and simplify the efforts of the user.
    A person comes back home, sits on his couch and says “TV ON”. The television turns on and shows 4 options including his favourite TV show which it just started recording automatically 5 minutes earlier. The user says “program one” and the delayed play-back of the show starts; the TV will come back to the live broadcasting during the commercials. In this case, the innovation is complete both for the communication and the adaptive content and functions.

In the above three example we can easily understand the correlation between the quality of user experience and the domain of IUI: without changing what is technically possible (the GPS can do certain functions while the Set-Top-Box of the TV can do other), the artificial intelligence embedded in the user interface changes the way the user can interact with the machine.

But simplifying what was already possible for the user to do otherwise is not the extend of IUI as, in many cases, although something is technically possible, the user will be blocked by the gigantic effort required to perform it in time (sometimes, finding a document among millions of other can be critically difficult) or in complexity (while a few hundreds of choices are proposed to the user, if none of them corresponds exactly to his expectations, selecting the best of them in a logical way can be beyond the brains capacities).

While the ubiquitous availability of content and services starts to become a standard, the key differentiating factors are increasingly linked to the quality of the user experience. Therefore the importance of IUI and closely related domains are likely to grow in popularity and might quickly become the most active AI research domains on a worldwide basis.

I will address in later posts how the link between User Experience and AI can be extended further as a new AI domain to manage not only the interface itself, but the way that any service is delivered to the user, the user experience quality being the key learning factor.

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