We’ve talked a little about how the AI in our existing devices works and how it needs to improve moving forward in order to better assist us. What is the next big move in AI though? Well, many think it will be an artificial intelligence living right in your ear. In fact, it seems that in-ear assistants similar to the one featured in the movie Her aren’t science fiction at all; but rather an imminent reality. There are obviously a million different implications if this fully comes to fruition. But, specifically, what does this mean to you as a business person? How will this impact your working world?
The product category is new: an in-ear assistant that can hear you and respond with an intimate whisper. It lets Siri or Alexa curl up next to your eardrum. It’s remarkable what experts from across the industry believe this technology could do within just a few years. Imagine a personal assistant that takes notes about your conversations, a helpful researcher who automatically checks IMDb for that actress’s name you can’t recall, a companion who listens to your problems, and even suggests psychiatric treatment, silently consulting the collective knowledge of experts in the industry.
Just imagine an assistant that is always connected to you. Imagine the possibilities. Think about the possibility of the device actively listening to what’s going on around you. To be able to listen to your needs and whisper the answers in your ear. That’s a whole new level of intimacy in a device that’s literally in your ear. It almost gives the impression of talking with yourself and having a little guide in your head. This private interface will change your relationship to AI.
Let’s consider some possibilities. Someone taking notes of everything you say or hear in a meeting to be used later. Conducting an amazing interview with the help of your little ear coach. Recalling a contact’s name or relationship to you when at a networking event. Pulling up notes and recalling them back to you during a presentation. Scheduling appointments. Making reservations. Reading your emails to you or your text messages and giving you the ability to reply without pulling out your phone. The list goes on and on.
There are obviously some questions to be answered and some hurdles to be jumped before we reach the level of AI seen in Her. We will need an infrastructure to support a mass use of this technology, a design that will allow for comfort and ease of use, audio that truly works, and social intuition. Social intuition is huge. Think of Siri. How many times have you interacted with Siri and been left disappointed.
At the same time, having a seemingly all-knowing voice whispering in your ear will make it very easy to set unrealistic expectations for that voice’s functional capabilities, and that poses a problem for designers. In everyday life, we constantly set realistic expectations for the people around us based on context. We don’t, for instance, ask our dry cleaner to calculate the 12.98% ARP on our credit card, or our accountant to tell us a bedtime story. It’s harder to know what a reasonable expectation is for a technology so nascent as in-ear assistants, which means users may treat these platforms as omniscient gods that understand everything in all contexts rather than single pieces of software—and be sorely disappointed.
As I said, if we were to reach the level of AI we saw in the movie Her, just imagine the possibilities. You would, quite literally, have an in ear assistant to help you through your day. This includes the duties of working and running a business. Technology and the information that comes with it would not be at your fingertips –but in your head. If all the moving pieces can be put together and all the kinks can be worked out, this proves to be the best personal assistant you’ve ever had. It makes the technology offered by other smart devices look timid and incomplete.
What do you think that you could accomplish with this level of AI? Do you think this would significantly cut down the time that we would spend looking at our phones and other devices? What sort of negative things do you see arising from this sort of AI? Do you think it’s too intimate? We want to hear your thoughts, comment below!