Earlier this month, our CEO (for Josh.ai) wrote about Human-Computer Interaction and why voice changes everything. Throughout the history of the computer, our interactions with it has grown more and more complex, and our user interfaces have struggled to keep up with our needs. We’ve gone from purely text based mainframe terminals, to the graphical environments we use today on our personal computers and smartphones, and now towards new forms of digital interaction. There is a never-ending list of reasons why voice is one of the most compelling of these new forms of human-computer interaction, but one of the most exciting for me is the prospect of killing the context switch.
I’m sure most of us would love to think we’re great multitaskers, capable of working on several things simultaneously, and able to split our attention with no decrease in productivity. Most research (and honest personal experience), however, would tell us that we’re really pretty terrible at it. For me, one of the hardest things I find about multitasking is the need to perform countless context switches. These context switches exist in many forms. For example, consider just a couple of the things that I was distracted by while writing this article: checking Facebook and making a cup of tea. These both (along with other distractions) required me to make different forms of context switches.
To check Facebook, I had to switch from my word processor to a web browser, find the tab that I have Facebook open in, peruse through my news feed to see that there’s nothing new or interesting anyways, and then navigate all the way back afterwards. Altogether I’ve probably lost about five minutes and gained almost nothing for it.
Making a cup of tea requires me to first get up to put some water in the kettle and on the stove. This is actually quicker than it takes me to check Facebook. I’m back in my chair in less than thirty seconds. The problem however, is that I’ve completely broken my train of thought. Sitting back down and preparing to start typing again, my first thought is “Uhhh what was I gonna say next again?” I start reading back through what I’ve written so far, hoping to remember the obviously genius transition I had thought of before getting up. Finally, five minutes later I remember and proudly type it out. Then the tea kettle starts whistling and I excitedly get up to pour my tea. I come back, tea in hand, and now don’t remember what my transition was even leading to. Ten minutes down the drain.
Ideally, I should probably try to block out and ignore these distractions entirely if I want to finish the task at hand quickly and efficiently, but realistically I’m just not that disciplined. Imagine though, how these interactions might be improved, and made less distracting by a smart voice controlled A.I. assistant, capable of automating smart devices — one like we’re building here at Josh.ai.
“Hey Josh, anything new and interesting on Facebook?”
“Your girlfriend has posted a photo of her cat. Nothing else of too much interest.”
“Alright thanks Josh, I can probably manage to wait a while to look at that.”
Now instead of losing five minutes, I’ve lost maybe thirty seconds. And since controlling things by voice is so intuitive and never requires me to stop looking at my web browser, I don’t feel like I’ve just made a bunch of context switches.
“Hey Josh, I could really use a cup of tea.”
“Alright I’ll turn on your tea kettle, the water will be boiling in about five minutes.”
Now I only have to get up and forget what I was writing about one time when the water is ready for me. I’ll still have to get up at that point and make the tea, but at least we’ve made it possible to kill some of the context switches that distract us every day.
We’re still waiting for the robot butler that will pour the water and bring the cup of tea over to you, but as soon as it’s released, we’ll be supporting it.
This post was written by Tim M at Josh.ai. Previously, Tim was an engineer at NetApp before joining the Josh team where he works on interconnected device control. Tim has a masters degree in Electrical Engineering from CU Boulder, enjoys microbreweries, rides his bike to work, and loves everything outdoors. Did I mention he really likes beer?