Intive Blog

Democratization of Virtual Assistants: I’d Like Alexa to Speak with the Voice of Chespirito

Many of us may have experienced what it is to interact with a virtual assistant, either with Apple’s Siri, Amazon’s Alexa or Google Assistant. However, they have not become predominant, even though many companies are struggling to integrate them in our applications. One example is Sheena Time Tracker, a product of which we are proud at intive-FDV.

Which are the Challenges of a Virtual Assistant in a Globalized World?

  • I don’t want to repeat the request three times. I want an assistant that is friendly and helpful.

A virtual assistant is meant to be used by any type of user in different situations and multiple conditions. What do we mean by this? Well, the user won’t always be at a distance of 3 cm from the device, won’t always articulate clear sentences in plain and correct language, and won’t always be in an environment without any noise. For those reasons, the virtual assistant must be prepared to operate in difficult conditions.

I’ve had the experience of repeating the same request several times and obtaining unexpected results each time, and I had no choice but to grab the phone or computer and execute the action manually, like I was in the Stone Age.

  • I don’t want an assistant called Michael Jackson with an Indian accent, I want it with the voice of Chespirito.

Consider the Spanish language: it is spoken by 400 million people and is the official language of 20 countries, each one with its distinct accent and jargon. For example, some countries name the fruit of the avocado plant palta or aguacate. Some name the fruit of the corn plant elote, mazorca or choclo.

Similarly, accents vary a lot by country and region. Spanish speakers from Puerto Rico, Argentina, Spain or Chile will have different accents. For an Argentinian person, it may be difficult to understand a Mexican person explaining how to prepare guacamole.

Some assistants, like WAZE, offer the possibility to choose among different voice styles (even the one of C3P0). Others, like Alexa or Google Assistant, prefer to build brand identity and offer a single option for voice.

On the other hand, no less important, most voice assistants have a female voice by default. Many psychologists have commented on the subject:

And there are studies that have explored the reasons behind choosing a female voice. It was found that people consider it warmer (to know more, read this article). But that didn’t please some groups (like the movement Girl Speak Louder), since they consider it to be an explanation based on a social construct that is changing in these times. The user should be able to choose their assistant’s voice of preference.

  • I want helpful answers.

Lastly, the user wants their life to be made easier. Although there has been great progress in interaction –thanks to Machine Learning–, a virtual assistant has to be useful above all: when asked about the time or the weather, it should be aware of our location and time zone. As the assistant identifies our preferences, these should reflect on the answers it gives us.

The assistant’s features have to be attractive and easy to use, so that the user can perform their request by voice instead of grabbing the remote control or their phones and execute the action manually. The user experience will define the assistants’ success. In sum, today the challenge is for virtual assistants to adapt to the different cultures and social and political conditions, in order to become a natural part of our lives.

Rodolfo Cordero

Rodolfo Cordero has been a developer at intive since June 2016. He is a graduate in Software Development from the Universidad Latina de Costa Rica, his country of origin. A regular reader and music lover, he took courses in cocktailing and to become a barista, skills that delight the staff of intive in the after parties organized by the company.

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