Our interactions with digital devices are currently being shaped by two big trends. The first is that every device is somehow becoming ‘smart’. The second is that, since the advent of Amazon’s Alexa, every interface has to be conversational. Both technological advances are really valuable. But both will also amount to nothing but trouble, if not used well.

Smart technologies aim to make tech more human

At its core, making things smart and talkative is about making technology more human. Technologies mimic human behaviour in their ability to sense, react and adapt themselves, and respond in our human language. We can see this in smart thermostats that sense when you’re at home and adjust the heating to your lifestyle. Talkative interfaces like Siri, Alexa and Echo allow users to request music, play games, order pizza or make a shopping list.

Mimicking human behaviour doesn’t make technologies more human-friendly by default

This presents a great advance in how people interact with technologies. I’d choose to talk to a device over punching in commands on a keyboard any time. But just mimicking human behaviour doesn’t make technologies more human-friendly in itself. It can even make them less user-friendly. If something’s able to talk but does so at the wrong time, or says something irrelevant, that’s not innovation, that’s just annoying. If your coffee machine can connect to the wifi, but it’s just quicker to hit the regular button, then the smartness is useless.

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