New York, March 29, 2017: It is easy to try to carry on a conversation with Siri, the virtual assistant on your iPhone, or Amazon’s Alexa device from your living room. But if you are doing it more lately, please beware. Researchers suggest that frequent interactions with human-like products may indicate loneliness.
“If someone notices they are talking more to Siri lately, maybe that has something to do with feeling lonely,” said one of the researchers Jenny Olson, Assistant Professor at the University of Kansas School of Business in the US.
“From that standpoint, it’s important to be aware of it,” Olson said.
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While these humanlike products do keep people from seeking out normal human interaction, which is typically how people try to recover from loneliness, there are limits to this phenomenon, and the long-term consequences are unclear, the researchers warned in a study published online in the Journal of Consumer Research.
“Generally, when people feel socially excluded, they seek out other ways of compensating, like exaggerating their number of Facebook friends or engaging in pro-social behaviour to seek out interaction with other people,” Olson said.
“When you introduce a human-like product, those compensatory behaviours stop,” Olson noted.
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In four experiments, the researchers found evidence that people who felt socially excluded would exhibit those compensating behaviours unless they were given the opportunity to interact with a human-like product.
“Alexa isn’t a perfect replacement for your friend Alexis,” lead author James Mourey of DePaul University in Chicago said.
“But the virtual assistant can affect your social needs,” Mourey added. (IANS)
India is a key growth market for Alexa’s global team at Amazon and witnessing the potential, the team is working on to introduce more regional language capabilities in the voice-based assistant that has stormed the living rooms in the country.
Though the smart speaker is a relatively young product in India, voice assistants like Alexa in smart devices are gaining immense popularity in the country.
According to the International Data Corporation (IDC), Amazon Echo led the Indian smart speakers market with 59 per cent share in 2018, followed by Google Home with 39 per cent unit share.
“Yes, we are working on infusing regional languages capabilities in Alexa for the Indian market but these are early days,a said Rohit Prasad, Vice President and Head Scientist for Alexa.
Right now, Alexa can understand some Hinglish commands but these are few and far between.
“For us, it is a contextual, cultural as well as content-related challenge as the question is not that Alexa just needs to understand Hindi. This part we can do relatively easily but Alexa needs to be Indian when it speaks in Hindi as there are several dialects and accents out there which Alexa has to understand and react accordingly,” Prasad told IANS on the sidelines of Amazon’s flagship “re: Mars” event here.
According to him, even jokes that are appropriate in the US may not be sound appropriate in the Indian languages.
“These are challenges which are not language dependent but more culture dependent. We believe in introducing a wholesome experience to delight our customers and not something that is half-baked. We are working on to solve these issues in the Indian context,” Prasad added.
Amazon last year launched a new category of skill called “Cleo” that enables customers in India help Alexa learn Hindi and other languages. The idea was to improve Alexa’s language model and help her gradually speak in local languages.
Apart from Hindi, users can respond to Alexa’s English statements in Tamil, Marathi, Kannada, Bengali, Telugu, Gujarati and other regional languages.
“We want Alexa to be everywhere. The whole idea is to make it more natural and conversational with humans with new Machine Learning (ML) capabilities that we are applying now,” said Prasad who has various teams working on it and the Bengaluru team is fairly big among them.
In India, there are nearly eight third-party brands with 13 different devices that have Alexa built-in.
“Alexa is a personal assistant, a companion, a friend, a family member. That’s how I think of it because our customers think of it that way. We are very transparent from day one on the privacy of your conversations and beyond the awake’ word, nothing is being recorded,” Prasad noted.
Alexa is currently available in over 80 countries and speaks more than 14 language variants. The main driver of the early adoption so far is the novelty factor around this technology.
The company has invested big in India from the perspective of developing skills for Alexa, hiring scientists to engineers.
“Alexa is not just to facilitate entertainment but can help in sectors like education and health. For those who are differently-abled, it can help plan daily schedules apart from reading news or playing songs,” said Prasad. (IANS)