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Imagine a world where you don't need to type text commands through a keyboard or a glass slab simulating one. All you do is tell your mobile who you want to talk to, what you want to search about, or what you want to buy, as you are going about with your life.

And your mobile executes your verbal request as it's a command. And what if you could tell your refrigerator that you are having some friends over for hot chocolate later and it should order two cartons of milk? And what about talking your computer instead of keying in text?

That world may sound surreal now, but we are not far away from enjoying it thanks to the Conversational User Interface, CUI in short, which will be a reality soon. That means time has come for us to talk to computers and not tap, swipe or struggle our way through badly designed user interface. 

CUI sounds very similar to GUI in the 1980s, which was created and popularised by Xerox, Apple and Microsoft in the early days of personal computing. Broadly speaking, Graphic User Interface (GUI) gave a visually appealing, easy to use approach to interact with computers and get them to work for us. 

We are aware how even these were quite confusing to us with badly designed drop-down menus, poorly placed buttons and inconsistent text boxes. Websites with horrid user experience can make a three-minute travel booking into a 20-minute nightmare, at times. 

More importantly, CUI is a technological evolution. As we start nit-picking visual user experience, innovators are working on taking this to the next level. With conversational interactions, such as Apple’s Siri, Amazon’s Alexa and OK Google, we have only started to witness the proverbial tip of the iceberg. CUI is getting poised to take a central place in consumers’ lives and their day-to-day activities. 

Think of the way human beings interact with each other and make conversations naturally and instinctively. It makes logical sense to evolve the same to our interactions with computers, mobiles and tablets.

Amongst the early birds is the chat application, WeChat, which allows businesses and customers to conduct commerce and talk to each other through their platform. Which means if you are a small Chinese business owner, you can set shop on WeChat and your customers can talk, negotiate and buy directly from you in real time. The conversation aspect so deeply embedded in this that it is naturally taking the growth trajectory from the business angle.

As mentioned earlier, CUI's compelling feature is its ability to be conversational. As of today, most of the CUI conversations either ask a computer for some information about a product or interact with a human on the other side. But artificial intelligence and intelligent machines are gradually introducing the concept of having a engaging and meaningful discussions about anything and everything with computers. Alexa is a good source for information and great digital assistant to start, but we are looking at an intelligent digital friend to have fun with.

Further, computers are learning to collect data and interpret just like us. Emotion is the big word here. But can computers detect the emotions as we talk to them? It's a bit early to predict which way this will go. Some innovators are working on passive sensors that can detect our physical state and behavior. For instance, cameras are able to capture facial expressions, posture and gestures, and microphones are capturing the nuances of speech. 

While, medical devices have been able to monitor body temperature, heart rate and such. As this information gets assimilated into the machine world and they learn how to respond to the same question differently based on our emotional condition, we will start  to see our relationships with the machines undergo radical changes. The day may come when we start falling in love with our digital friend or vice versa. Rajnikanth's movie 'Enthiran'  will not seem that far-fetched after all.

By: Suresh Reddy
(The author is  Chairman and Managing Director of Hyderabad-based Lycos Internet Ltd)



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