A.I. Assistants Handy, But Not Great: Study

A.I.

Amazon Echo A.I.

Many of us have a voice-activated, artificial intelligence (A.I.) digital assistant, but how do we use them? A new study shows we’re probably accessing assistants out of sheer convenience – and because they’re fun.

After surveying over 1,000 people in the U.K., J. Walter Thompson (an advertising agency) and Mindshare had some interesting returns. Half of those using A.I. assistants are between 18-34 years old, and 48 percent have a household income of over £50,000. (The national average for that income level is 37 percent, according to the study; some 43 percent of respondents were male.)

You might think this young, professional middle-class group use their digital assistants for productivity. Nope; they like the convenience, simplicity and fun-factor. Fifty-five percent say they use their assistant because it’s “convenient,” while 52 percent say “it’s simple to use.” Just under half, 49 percent, say it’s faster than typing messages or searches, while 45 percent think digital assistants are just plain fun.

18 percent of people surveyed say they use their A.I. assistants “at least once a week,” with another 19 percent claiming monthly usage. Interestingly, only 23 percent say they’ve used it “once or twice,” while most (40 percent) claim to have never used it; 28 percent of that group say they would consider using an A.I. assistant in the future.

What we’re not doing with our digital assistants is also interesting. Most aren’t customizing them, and only 15 percent say the software is accurate enough to use often. Some 87 percent of those who are regularly using a digital assistant say that, when it works properly, it simplifies life. Only 23 percent say it makes them more efficient; a mere 26 percent say A.I. assistants are “cool.”

Apple’s Siri digital assistant on macOS

Most (63 percent) say they’re using the assistant to perform web searches. Around 55 percent just want to ask their digital friends silly questions (“Siri, where do I hide a dead body?”), and half use it to play music. Some 46 percent want to know the weather, and 42 percent use Siri, Google, Alexa or another service to get directions. As for the weirdest statistic from this survey: 26 percent of regular voice users say they’ve had a sexual fantasy about their A.I. assistant.

The study also probes why no voice platform has yet dominated the marketplace. Users don’t completely trust their assistants, and feel wary of using them in public; 22 percent report they’d feel “stupid” using a voice-activated digital assistant in public, while others report their interactions are too private. You probably don’t want Siri telling the entire train your bank balance.

We also don’t trust companies: 44 percent say they are worried Google, Amazon and Apple (among others) are listening in. Based on a murder trial in Arkansas, that’s not an unreasonable fear; in that case, an Amazon Echo’s recordings were requested (and granted) as evidence.

In addition, our expectations are too high. Movies and television have led some to believe a digital, voice-activated A.I. assistant should be able to do just about everything you ask of it. Indeed, 60 percent of respondents say that if voice assistants were as contextually aware as humans, they’d use them all the time.

Luckily, the companies behind these A.I. assistants are already developing the features that users are requesting. All are attempting to make assistants contextually smarter and anticipate our needs. There are even efforts to keep A.I. from becoming evil… something that respondents to this study don’t seem to consider.

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