Robots and computers are becoming smarter and smarter. They have learned to respond to the user’s voice. And that goes beyond just following the spoken orders. More and more devices learn how to identify emotions by the tone of voice, the volume and the intensity of the voice.

Cheering up or allowing to cry?
"Today’s computers are already so incredibly versatile, that the key question becomes: what do we expect them to do with all that input?", says Jan van Boesschoten of the Digital department at VodafoneZiggo. "Should the system play a bit of cheerful music in the morning if it notices the user got up on the wrong side of the bed? Or should it stay quiet? Should the system come up with things to cheer someone up who is disappointed in love or should it give ample space for the negative emotions? And who decides these things for who? Is it the user who is in control at all times or is it conceivable the robot takes the initiative at some point in time?"

Possible versus desirable
Questions like this can keep an entire department busy for ages. Some additional thinking power would therefore be welcome, Jan concluded. He contacted the university of applied sciences in Amsterdam and had a number of students in the master’s programme Digital Design flown in who were eager to dive into this issue. Since January 2018, a team is carrying out elaborate research into the possibilities and desirability of technique based on voice control.

Convenience is just the beginning
"The voice has the future", according to Jouke Zult, one of the students participating in the VodafoneZiggo project. "Voice control is well on its way to become one of the main interfaces. Finding information, buying stuff, making contacts, writing texts; every one of these activities is becoming easier by using one’s voice. Amazon, Apple and Google are pouring a lot of money into this. As a result, voice controlled systems are popping up everywhere. As yet, it is primarily very convenient, because we don’t have to type anything but can simply voice what’s on our mind. Still, this is only the beginning."

Data as driving force of the revolution
Big data and algorithms are the driving forces of the next revolution, according to Jan. "Machines learn how to offer us a perfectly personalized experience. By developing thinking power, observing behaviour and smartly combining data, they will know absolutely everything about us. Before we need to sneeze, a house robot will probably already proffer a handkerchief. Before we feel the need to buy, a reservation for a concert will already have been made. It will all become a reality, but is this what we actually want?"

The role of the virtual assistant in a family
That very dilemma is the focus point in the students’ assignment. Jouke: "We are investigating which role voice control can play in a family. In this, we focus on the products and services of VodafoneZiggo. To what extent does this virtual assistant take over the function of a screen? What’s it like to live in a home where everyone is talking to devices all day long?" 

The design principles of the team:

1 Quality time
Use the time you save in a meaningful way. Encourage human interaction by reducing unnecessary white noise.

2 Structure
Our daily routine is packed with recurring activities. Smart technology recognizes them, takes over or makes life easier by anticipating them.

3 Clarity
Give users control as much as possible and manage expectations. That creates confidence in the assistant as a tower of strength.

4 Accessibility
Know your users well and be accessible. An intuitive interface and appropriate feedback equal the optimal experience.