According to Pulse Labs co-founder and CEO Abhishek Suthan, “Gone are the days when human beings need to learn to interact with machines. We’re now in a time when machines need to learn to interact with humans.” For those of us who have struggled with, complained about, and screamed at these inanimate silicon (not silicone) objects of affection, these words from Suthan are soothing to our ears. It’s about time someone finally stood up against the computer and for the human race.
Beyond that, this idea from Pulse Labs is simply a great concept.
There are many layers that are involved with making this seemingly impossible task come to fruition. Pulse Labs is taking more of a byte sized approach rather than trying to conquer the entire domain of computing all at once. People prefer voice interfaces with our computing devices, especially smartphones, but there are a myriad of subdivisions that exist: language, geographical location, dialects, accents, and idioms to name a few. It is clear that we are pleased at the ability of Siri and other apps to generally understand our verbal intentions, but we also know there is much that needs to be done.
Many times the problem with interacting with technology using a voice interface is the computer doesn’t understand things like inflection – the way a question is asked. For example, asking “What did you do today?” versus “What did you do today?” can result in very different answers depending on how many people are in the room.
Pulse Labs has begun to work with voice app developers and help them recognize and build experiences for specific demographics. Instead of trying to teach an app how to understand everyone who speaks English all around the world, it focuses on identifying the language customers speak to a company or companies. For example, the company is currently working with Amazon to assist user interaction with their very popular Alexa interface. A teenager speaking to Alexa is likely to be different than the way an adult speaks to Alexa (most of the time). Those demographics mentioned include age, gender, geographical location, and idioms.
Alexa Fund director Paul Bernard said that, “Pulse provides a great way for brands to understand user interaction and gain rich feedback to create engaging customer experiences.” What Bernard is saying is Amazon has built a formidable brand in Alexa as far as the hardware technology goes. But the next level is to have the software connection that takes Alexa to the next level. The primary road to take is to analyze the feedback from customers through their individual interactions with Alexa and refine the customer experience accordingly.
Of course, to be financially successful you need a business model, and Pulse Labs has a relatively simple one. First and foremost, its focus is to build an app that goes on top of the current hardware technology, such as Alexa. They collaborate with third-party companies who have expertise in specific niches like market research, and who have the experience to develop the needed demographic profiles for a specific Pulse Labs client. This allows Pulse Labs to focus on the technology end.
From the financial end, the company has received seed funding of more than $2.5 million from venture capitalist company Madrona Venture in addition to Techstars, the Amazon Alexa Fund, and Bezos Expeditions. There are definitely more major potential clients out there when you consider Apple’s Siri and Google Assistant.
One of the advantages of the Pulse Labs approach is that testing can take an enormous amount of time and money in order to get a working app out the door. But working with a willing partner such as Amazon in a real world environment will speed the testing along and save a considerable amount of money for both Pulse Labs and the client. Actual Alexa interactions can be used to develop the demographic specific app, essentially eliminating a step in the testing phase.
One of the important questions to ask about both the future of voice technology and Pulse Labs is whether it is a passing fad or whether it will be very difficult to replace the voice interface as the future of human-computer communication. Suthan believes the underlying popularity of using voice is it creates a personalized experience for the person. A primary reason that people feel dehumanized with the advance of technology is because it dehumanizes them. But when asked why they feel that way, many people cannot tell you exactly why. If you are communicating with another “entity” (you can put an alien from another planet here instead) you will understand the experience as more personal. If you have ever seen the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey with the astronauts interacting with the Hal 9000 unit, you should have a better understanding of the problem – and solution.