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What Is Conversational AI?

Conversational AI: Computers That Talk

Conversational AI systems are computer systems that can communicate with people in ways that feel natural, solve problems, and get smarter over time. In short, it’s what enables us to interact with computers via speech, our most common form of interaction.

With conversational AI, voice-driven technologies like Amazon Alexa are finally starting to enable the sort of magical interactions we've dreamed of for decades (think: Star Trek computer). Using a voice user interface (VUI), we can engage with a voice service like Alexa and simply ask for what we want. We don’t have to translate our requests into the computer system’s language.

Teaching Computers to Converse

Conversational AI signals a huge advancement in the way we interact with computers. Conversations can be conceptually and emotionally complex; they entail much more than simple input and output. When we talk to each other, how we say things matters as much as what we say. Subtle differences in our tone, context, and prosody all carry meaning.

Computers can’t grasp these nuances, and that’s where voice design come in. A well-designed voice user interface takes into account these unwritten rules of conversation. It enables the conversational AI system to think and talk as we do, and not like a robot.

Elements of Voice Design

Designing for voice involves understanding how people talk to each other. Linguist and philosopher Paul Grice’s four maxims offer a helpful guideline:

1. Quantity

Be informative. Share as much information as possible—but no more.

2. Quality

Be truthful; don’t share information that isn’t supported by evidence.

3. Relation

Be relevant. Say things that are pertinent to the conversation.

4. Manner

Be as clear, brief, and orderly as possible. Avoid obscurity and ambiguity.

There are many other layers to voice design. For example, the voice user interface should inform, respond, and ask questions in a natural and conversational way. This entails presenting information in a concise and simple way, then building on the user’s response to move the conversation forward. The VUI should also account for the many ways people may express the same request, and know how to handle unexpected requests and responses.

Learn more: Amazon Alexa Voice Design Guide

Start Creating for Voice

There are many layers to voice design, but you don’t need to be an expert to start designing and building voice experiences. Anyone can create for voice using the Alexa Skills Kit (ASK), a collection of self-service APIs, tools, documentations, and code samples that makes it fast and easy to build for Alexa. With ASK, anyone can leverage Amazon’s pioneering knowledge in the field of voice design and get started quickly.

Start creating for voice today and help shape the UX of the future.