Using Cognitive Computing to Humanize Computer Interaction

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Using Cognitive Computing to Humanize Computer Interaction

Cognitive InteractionEvery so often there is a fundamental shift in how we interact with “machines”. The era of cognitive computing is about to trigger a new shift.

The background

It is easy to forget how far input devices have evolved since the first automated computing devices were introduced just over a century ago. Today we are all used to touching, swiping and pinching using our fingers, on the screens in order to interact with machines.

Computer and MouseThis move to touch was a radical shift from typing on a computer keyboard or using a mouse (more recent), which was the norm, since the first automated computing devices were introduced just over a century ago.


ITouchscreent is pretty amazing to think that today we use touch to interact with machines daily. We rarely give that a second thought. Touch has undoubtedly augmented existing interaction models and opened new possibilities. There are now many things where touch is simply the best method of interacting with a machine.

Despite the innovation it is a fact that we have still not been able to really humanize the experience of working with computers or machines.

What does it mean to Humanize computer interaction?

To answer this we need to step back. Think about how we interact person to person when we are in the same room (avoiding conflict situations). Various accessibility approaches excluded, the way we interact person to person is using our eyes, ears and our mouth and using our arms and hands.

EmpathyThat is we watch, we listen, we speak, we adjust our facial expressions and more. All of that allows us to empathize with others enabling us to better communicate.

For many years computers could not really understand and parse human speech. Voice synthesis was robotic and often prone to error due to poor understanding of inputs. Computers could be used to understand our facial expressions and react accordingly. In short the use of the keyboard and mouse was the best we could do. Touch, which upped the game, took us forwards but it did not really humanize the interaction.

To humanize computer interaction the machines need to be able to listen to us, interpret what we are saying and respond in context and intelligently. They need to be able to understand emotions etched on our faces. They need to put things they are listening to into context when they respond.  It is amazing what we as humans can do intuitively. If we are to humanize computer interaction we have to move generally forwards to replicating that.

With that said there are times other ways of interacting will make sense. This post is suggesting humanizing how we interact will make sense for many cases but there will also still be many where other methods of interaction remain key!

The coming change – powered by cognitive computing

As we start to try and really humanize computer interaction there is a big change ahead of us. The keyboard was usurped by the mouse, for all except typing, the mouse was usurped by touch, especially away from the PC.  In the future we will see the dramatic rise  of vision and voice as our primary interface.

Just imagine if to use your smart fridge in the future you need a mouse and keyboard? What about using your smart car?

The future is obvious, especially outside of the PC space, and the many changes outside of the PC space will drive changes also in expectations on the PC.

I have no doubt at all that my young children will grow up as perplexed by what a mouse is as millennials are today when it comes to a floppy disk. Organizations are going to have to adapt!

Why is this now possible. The simple answer is the dramatic improvement in cognitive computing.  Speech recognition is now as good as a human transcriber. Speech synthesis is moving away from the robotic sounds of the past to include voice inflections and more. Recognition of  many aspects of our facial expressions is better than ever. Of course in all these areas there is much room for improvement. The fact is that what we have today is generally good enough for us to get going while it steps up one more level.

Cognitive Computing – Humanizing computer interaction

So just what is cognitive computing?

CognitiveAt it’s simplest level cognitive computing allows humans to interact with a computer in more natural ways and to get answers back in more natural ways.

Behind the scenes powerful artificial intelligence, machine learning, search, natural language processing and more is in play. Much enabled by the rapid developments in Deep Learning.

Cognitive computing helps to bring the capability for machines to listen, understand and react to speech. It includes the ability to see and detect human emotion so that a machine can react accordingly and much more.

Done correctly cognitive computing will change the way we interact with machines and things like Cortana, Siri and Alexa are just the start!

Organizations need to be thinking about how this will affect people interacting with their services or their products. They need to start experimenting with new ways or risk being left behind by a cognitive born competitor.

The future users of your services will expect no less. Cognitive computing may be early in its rise but its rise will be dramatic and fast.

We are at the start of a journey

I have no doubt that the  potential for using cognitive computing, to change the way we interact with machines, is huge. We have only just started that journey. There is a long way to go!

The Future

How our youngest generation and those yet to grace the planet will work with machines, and interact with digital services, is going to be radically different to how we have done so far.

Their expectations will be of a seamless experience and a great deal of intelligence in the responses they receive. Cognitive computing stands ready to enable that and people need to pay attention.

The question is not IF organizations will need to embrace cognitive computing to change how people work with their services, and interact with their machines, but rather when they will jump on the train to the future and will they start early enough!

What do you think?

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