Goodbye GUI, hello VUI

More and more, we find ourselves talking to technology. And when technology understands what we are asking it to do, and then does it, it feels magical. 

As a futurist, I try and make an effort to road test all the latest services and gadgets, particularly when it comes to my home. I love being able to walk into my condo with an armful of shopping and shout out, "Alexa, turn on welcome home" and see the lighting all come on to greet me. I have other voice settings to turn on music, turn on the TV to my favorite show, or turn the lights down to "mood" mode and turn on the fireplace. It might sound like overkill, and that perhaps I've gone a step or two too far with the home automation, but it's the sort of thing you don't want to be without once you don't have it. A bit like keyless entry to cars felt like a silly luxury, until you had it and realized you never wanted to part with it.

Over the coming years voice will be an ever bigger part of the way we interact with technology. Gartner recently predicted that by 2019, a full 20% of all smartphone interactions will be ones you have with a virtual personal assistant. And by 2020, they predict that the majority of devices will be designed to function with minimal or zero touch. For this to happen, voice recognition and natural language processing will have to get a lot better, but they are both on a decent trajectory. It's looking good.

All this implies that for achieving a good many tasks in our day we will be interacting less with computers through touch and graphical user interfaces (GUIs), and more by using our voices. GUIs run on graphics processors in the client (your PC, mac, tablet, phone, or other devices with a display). Voice interfaces, let's call them Vocal User Interfaces, or VUIs, typically do not run locally on your device and instead rely on computing capability in the cloud to make sense of what you've said and then respond to you.

We are moving from GUIs on the client, to VUIs in the cloud.

As the price of computing continues to drop, we will see more and more smart, connected devices. If the marginal cost of making an object smart and connected is negligible, and there is utility in making that object smart and connected, then designers will make that object smart and connected. It's really that simple. So watch out for smart shoes, smart toasters, smart tennis racquets, in fact smart everything.

These smart devices aren't all going to have a display on them. In fact most of them won't have a display for both cost and aesthetic reasons. To use many of these devices, you're not going to want to whip out your smart phone and use a companion app so you can interact with them. It's much more natural to just talk to them. This is why the VUI is looking so attractive.

To be able to talk to the virtual coach embedded inside your smart tennis racquet is much more natural and intuitiive on the tennis court than trying to use a graphical interface.

"How's my serve, Bjorn?", you'll ask. (Assuming your tennis coach is perhaps the digital embodiment of tennis legend, Bjorn Borg)

"Try not to twist your arm to the left quite so much as you bring your arm up", your virtual coach, Bjorn, might reply.

The GUI isn't going away. It will still have a place in our lives for many of the things that we do. But for many other activities, the GUI will be joined by it's new cousin, the VUI.