In the last few weeks, working on the multi-channel approach that we’ve been using to showcase Elly, two episodes came to mind that had completely changed my vision of the future.
The first dates back to my university life immediately after graduation, when I enrolled as a student-worker in a post-graduate course in artificial intelligence. It was back in 2003, and in my mind we would soon have had flying machines and drones that could walk the dog, even though we were still working with Windows XP and Microsoft had only launched .NET the year before.
Extremely excited, I went to the first lesson on Artificial Intelligence, with my brand new copy of Artificial Intelligence, A Modern Approach (Vol.1) a textbook that is still very relevant. I couldn’t take all the courses because I was working, but I used paid time off and vacation time to follow the ones I was most passionate about. After an unnerving wait, in a huge classroom with only about twenty students, I finally saw the course’s teacher, an old acquaintance of mine from the programming languages course, now close to retirement.
She left her bag on the table, took out a laptop that was, at the time, in itself something to see, and tried to connect the VGA cable to the projector in the room. After about ten minutes of unsuccessful attempts, she decided to give up: she got an overhead projector and extracted the transparencies for the lesson with a diabolical smile. The fact that she had them with her as a backup made me think it wasn’t the first time he had fought with an electronic projector.
I honestly thought it was a bad start, that, as always, the university was light years away from real life, that the teachers were too old to teach such new subjects and that perhaps I would have done better to study independently outside working hours. Time would have taught me how superficial my considerations were, but one thing stuck with me: the teacher’s comment after getting the new projector. She said something like:
You see guys, maybe I am clueless, but as long as technology is not transparent and within everyone’s reach, its true value will always be unseen“.“
At the time it seemed to me like just an excuse, but today I finally understand the true meaning.
The second episode, on the other hand, is very recent, and concerns my engagement with the non-profit association Fare Digitale, with which we try to make our contribution to the spread of digital technology into everyday life by raising the awareness of all the stakeholders involved, and by creating vertical working groups on the issues that are most important to us.
As part of the association’s launch event, we invited some guests to talk to us about the role of digital technology in Italy and some specific aspects that we as an association consider to be highly relevant. Among these, Professor Carlo Mazzone was there, invited by me since I knew of his commitment to teaching in public school, which also led him, more than deservedly, to the finals of the Global Teacher Prize.
In one of his speeches, (it is only available in italian, sorry), he says something very simple, but at the same time very fascinating:
“The Digital must be transparent in relation to what it is used for, when we imagine the cities of the future, even watching science fiction films a bit, we imagine these huge skyscrapers, these machines that fly […], I imagine a city in the future where you don’t see that the city is in the future, I imagine something immersed in the environment, something transparent, where, however, there is technology everywhere“.
I confess that it was a bit disarming for me to listen to him, not because he said something out of this world, but because he brought down an iconic image that I had never questioned, instead proposing something which combines pragmatism and value into something sustainable.
UX and transparency
Let’s think about it, aren’t User eXperience and transparency, after all, the same thing? The purpose of the UX study is to make a solution (hardware, software or any other type) easily usable to certain categories of users. Transparency, as we mean it here, is about breaking down barriers, physical and otherwise, to the use of technology.
From this point of view they coincide exactly, and the possibility of using multichannel deliveries in being able to take advantage of a digital service is perfectly in line with the desire to implement both: an effective user experience for one’s target through the possibility of using the channel that is preferred.
For this reason, when we started designing our product’s dashboard, we immediately saw it as one of the microservices that could be used to access our product. We immediately imagined being able to access it through other tools that our potential users already use, such as Teams, Slack, Alexa, Siri, Cortana.
By imagining these scenarios, many possible use cases have come out. The example of use during a meeting, which I described in the previous article, can easily be extended to many other moments of everyday life. If the goal is to access the data we’re interested in, in the form we want, when it can make the difference, we cannot imagine the the user will always be able to launch one of our clients at that moment.
How many times has it happened to you to brainstorm in the most disparate situations and not have the information on hand needed to support an idea, which would either affirm or undermine it. This is precisely one of the aspects we are focusing on, and this is why the analysis and understanding of natural language are the key: the communication interface must be common and the language we use conversationally is certainly the best candidate.
To conclude, by paraphrasing the expression “technology at the service of man”, and trying to give it a more vertical connotation for our sector of interest, we can define our main objective as the search for an artificial intelligence to support man: transparent and human-friendly, to give value to its potential for the collaboration between artificial and natural intelligences.
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