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A conversation with your TV: closer than you think?

Charles DawesRovi
Written by Charles Dawes | Published in
First published: 29-06-2015
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Create DateJune 29, 2015
Last UpdatedJuly 2, 2015

Much like science fiction has long portrayed humans travelling to space as the "final frontier," it has also depicted voice recognition and interaction as the ultimate human-machine interface. While speech-driven interfaces have been used for decades, the reality of speech-driven interfaces has been anything but the natural, virtually human speech capabilities envisioned. Practical uses have, until recently, been limited to supporting basic structured queries and stock responses.

However, with the wider adoption of smartphones and tablets, and the broader advancements of interactive technology, we've seen a significant shift in how we interact with our devices. With the introduction of virtual assistants such as Apple's Siri, speech interfaces go beyond basic menu navigation and data retrieval and have started to catch the interest of consumers.

Although there's evidence of serious attempts to try and break through to the futuristic ideals of speech-driven interfaces, most tools still rely on structured menus for information retrieval or spoken keywords, which simply replace their keyed input counterparts. These are largely unintuitive and certainly don't support our natural language patterns. When it comes to true conversational interfaces, we're really only scratching the surface of what's possible.

What are conversational interfaces?

Conversational interfaces are user interfaces that simulate natural communication qualities on devices and applications, allowing users to interact with them in casual language modes - similar to the way humans converse with one another.

Consumers increasingly desire the ability to speak naturally with devices and have them effectively understand and execute their requests. One of the essential enabling technologies for these new experiences is graph-based search and discovery. This graph - the ‘knowledge graph’ - is a semantic database of named entities, where the relationships between these entities are dynamically mapped for predictive and intelligent results for search and discovery.

Imagine what this level of interaction can achieve when applied to varied uses, such as trying to book travel, for example - juggling dates, flight schedules, and ticket prices - or deciding what to watch on TV between hundreds of live TV channels, thousands of VoD titles, and potentially millions of OTT options.

"What's the film where Tom Hanks works for FedEx?"

The TV viewing experience is a prime example of where a knowledge graph-based semantic approach is of great benefit to consumers. As the landscape becomes increasingly complex with the sheer volume of content available, traditional lexical metadata and structured menu-driven search and navigation are beginning to prove increasingly cumbersome. Indeed, a recent Rovi survey found that 84 per cent of subscribers indicate they have turned off the TV without finding something to watch. Over half do so more than 20 per cent of the time.

A knowledge graph assists in this discovery by representing content options in the way people think about programmes rather than forcing traditional keyword or structured menu-based attributes on users.

Personal and contextual relevance, like we see in the world of mobile and web services, can also be intelligently mapped for television with similar effect.

Semantic technologies become even more interesting with conversational interfaces that enable semantic interpretation for natural language queries, and can discern when a user is drilling down into a context or has switched topics, such as moving from movies to sports. Not only does this mimic our everyday conversation styles, but is how users typically browse for programming, often not knowing exactly what they want to watch, or meandering through options.

Talking to the TV – fact or fiction?

Conversational interfaces are the next logical phase of development for the emerging era of smart-connected devices. Technology and market forces are driving towards conversational interfaces at a rapid pace.

Simply adding speech enablement to existing solutions isn’t enough. To become fully functional and effective for users, voice technologies must be backed by sophisticated search capabilities, such as knowledge graphs and deep metadata. By building these technologies effectively, consumers can expect to reap the rewards of fast, accurate and intuitive voice content search.

Amazon's quirky commercial with actor Gary Busey for their Fire TV highlighted the device's voice capabilities, through the device's remote with built-in microphone. Samsung also introduced a similar remote control and Google launched one to accompany its Android TV. Expect remotes with built-in microphones to become mainstream in the next couple of years and to be available as part of pay-TV offerings.

Talking to inanimate objects used to be a sign of madness, not so in the future. From TVs and refrigerators to cars and alarm clocks, speech will undoubtedly be the new norm in advanced interaction.

By Charles Dawes, senior director, international marketing, Rovi

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