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April 13, 2005

VisiCalc creator comments on speech recognition

Brad Feld sent me a link to a post by Bob Frankston, the co-creator of VisiCalc, about his experiences with IVR and speech recognition.  I had already discovered Dan Bricklin's blog, the other co-creator of VisiCalc, but to see one of my software hero's commenting on my industry's technology was really cool.  To find out that I knew someone who knew them was even better. VisiCalc, followed closely by Flight Simulator and BASIC, opened my eyes to the potential of small computers.  I completely changed the path I was on when I discovered software.

In Bob's post (can I call him Bob, or should it be Mr. Frankston?), he talks about how speech recognition systems are better than touch-tone applications and then goes on to speculate how future applications could be even more useful if they adapted to the user and even taught them how to be a better user in the future.  (Read the post, he says it better than I can summarize)

He's right, and it is fun to think about how computers could get better about understanding what we want.  We've actually got a lot of experience with this, but unfortunately it is all happening slower than I'd like to see.  I was talking about this with a Human Factors Expert here at Gold Systems - that's not her title, I just like how it sounds - and she sent me the following comments on the subject.

Here are Paula's comments:

What he seems to be complaining about is that the system does not adapt to what he wants to do. He's arguing that people can and do "learn paths" .

One method for providing "paths" is by setting up shortcuts.  The experienced caller can complete tasks in fewer steps by linking commands together.  In fact, the shortcuts we built into the (Large Insurance Company in the Midwest) application are used relatively infrequently.

Another method, which is what I think he has in mind, is to tailor the interaction for each use once he/she has been identified.  So,  once he  logs into the system, the menus are organized according to his usage pattern.  This is certainly doable but very expensive to code and test. Most of our customers do not see the value (ROI) for undertaking such a  complicated design because, in reality, he will not spend more money with United Airlines if his IVR interaction was better.  (Is that true?  I'm not convinced.  - Terry)

His 4th paragraph is really pointing at the issue that I harp-on which is most of the designs I strive for are ones that GET OUT OF THE CALLERS WAY.  He says this a little differently by saying that he doesn't want it to be friendlier or salesy.  He just wants to make his reservation and get off the phone.  The IVR shouldn't be memorable or flashy- it's a tool and only a tool. You respect it as such.

With respect to the  6th paragraph,  he's really talking about getting the design right.  He's pointing out that his ISV (software developer) failed to understand that there is information people need that they are not providing (800 number).  I hit this frustration a lot-  many times we let customers tell us what they want and we fix-bid contracts to include ONLY these features. When we have time built into schedules to work with the customer to define the application, we can help identify the information that callers are seeking and ensure a better application.

My thoughts-

April 13, 2005 in Speech Recognition | Permalink


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