In July, 2020, UneeQ was proudly involved in the first ever Digital Humans Day, hosted by Trends Exchange. Part of Digital Humans Day included a panel discussion hosted by our very own Daryl Reva, SVP Marketing.

Daryl was joined by a number of incredibly talented and experienced professionals in the world of AI and innovation. Up first was Lovina McMurchy, who has led teams on huge conversational AI projects, like Amazon Alexa.

Here’s what Lovina had to say when asked about the growth of conversational AI as seen from her position leading one of the most successful virtual assistants in history, and where she sees digital humans fitting in as an interface that goes beyond voice alone.

Daryl Reva: So let’s jump in and kind of set a foundation for everyone around the evolution of conversational AI. And Lovina, I’d like to start with you. What have you seen building in this market over the years, and what’s been your experience bringing this wealth of knowledge from several of these high-class companies?

Lovina McMurchy: Well certainly from my time at Amazon, in particular, I had really a front-row seat to the growth of conversational AI with Alexa. And, you know, I remember when Alexa was launched, actually voice-based search with Google, with Apple, with Siri was already a pretty big thing. But the idea that people would pay $200 for a device to put in their home that basically delivered search, it was quite surprising.

And of course it was big. And what it really showed us is the tremendous pent-up demand for natural interfaces and for natural language interaction. So now if we sort of fast-forward to where are we today with it, I think there’s something like 60 million Americans own a smart speaker – and that’s sort of at the end of last year. And the forecasts are that we’ll get to the point of having over half of US households in the next three years own a smart speaker.

Just to unpack some of those numbers, when you read numbers like that they’re really only talking about devices like Echo and Google Home. And it’s not really capturing the other thing that’s going on with natural language which is all of these voice interfaces being embedded to all kinds of other devices – appliances, light switches, cars, etc. So if you count all of those different touchpoints with voice, you sort of see this grand vision that the whole world will become voice controllable, and that voice will be the next great human technology interface and really be pervasive.

And that’s a big vision. When I sort of unpack all of that and say “well what nuances are there inside that that I learnt at Amazon?” One of them was voice by itself is actually a low-bandwidth channel – relative to your eyes, and seeing. All of the information that seeing can communicate and you can interpret using your eyes, there’s only so much information you can glean using voice and Alexa Shopping as a good example of that. If you compare being able to say “hey find me a little black dress” to doing the same thing with Amazon.com and all of the information that comes back on the many different types of little black dresses, the different sellers and the price point, voice is quite low bandwidth.

And so what we saw with Alexa is that it was used tremendously for pretty short conversations – “tell me the news, what’s the weather today, play me my music”. But to really engage people you have to put back the element of seeing. All the different things that you can communicate with your eyes you know – whether it’s emotions, whether it’s other types of information – eyes are high bandwidth.

And so that’s why I think digital humans will have a really, really important future because they take that notion of this natural voice interface but they add back all the richness that we get through being able to kind of see and have two-way, vision-based conversations as well.

Daryl Reva: Yes you really highlight the roadmap of the user interface changing not only from computer-to-computer but the human to computer type of evolution there. It’s only a matter of time that we continue to see this roadmap progress where the user interface does embody that completely visual experience. So thank you for that.

Psst, while you’re here

At Digital Humans Day, our CEO Danny Tomsett unveiled UneeQ Creator – the world’s first publicly available platform on which anyone can design, develop and deploy their own digital humans.

If you’re interested in putting some of Lovina’s insights into your own digital human project, you can sign up for a free trial and start experimenting today. Or discover more about what you can do on the platform via the link below.