Leveraging 'People' Power of Sustainability

Mr. Ashis Dutta

Founder & Director at CCE Software P Ltd (India) and CCE Software Inc. NY (USA) 


Ashis Dutta lives in Bangalore and runs a software company in India and the United States of America. A Process and User Interface (UI) expert, he designs experience, not only  software.  

Specialized in Data Integrity for GMP/ US-FDA, Business Process, User Experience Design.

He is also the co-author of the book ERP a Managerial Perspective (Tata McGrawHill)

Designing Experience for a Machine-Driven World 

My train from Vienna arrived in Salzburg dot on time at 10.07 PM. I knew, at that hour, there wouldn’t be anyone at the hotel I was booked in, but knew what to do. Standing on the pavement outside the hotel, I used my credit card and booking PIN to check in and get the smart key. But …. 

But I couldn’t find the sensor to use the key which would open the sliding glass door to the hotel. I searched frantically, waved, tabbed the key here and there with the hope something will click. There wasn’t a soul in sight. I was desperate. Luckily, after 15 anxious minutes, which seemed like eternity, a couple came out of the hotel, opening the door from inside. Phew. 

We are living in a world where our interaction with machines is increasing at break-neck speed. Be it trading in stocks, entering a premise or asking for directions. This change – moving from the physical to the mechanical-digital world - is a paradigm shift in the way we lead our daily lives now and would be leading in the near future.

Look at the major shifts:

  • From physical to digital objects and processes. E.g. books to Kindle, buying grocery online.
  • ​Dissolving spatial relevance, or physicality of locations. There are on-line-only banks with no relevant physical location.
  • Dissolving temporal bearing, or constraint of time. 24/7 access to several services, like asking for directions.
  • And consequently, vanishing human-contact from daily chores. The machine is taking over.

This transformation is largely brought about by the factors: 

  • Emergence of platforms, browsers, servers, data-centres, internet, cloud
  • Programmable systems
  • Mega connectivity
  • Affordable mobile and mobile internet

Thanks to affordable mobile with internet, its penetration is so gigantic, that there are swathes of communities across the globe who cannot afford a laptop or a PC, but have leapfrogged to all mobile-enabled services.

And with this comes the challenge of how to design experience across the diverse spectrum of demography, interacting with machines in place of humans, for its myriad needs.  

Funny thing, this, Experience

​You are trying to adjust the faucet for the right temperature for a warm shower. You enter a restaurant for dinner. You try to buy a birthday gift online on your mobile. Or do an online bank transaction. Whatever you do, you are experiencing something all the while. Ah, that was easy. Gosh, this is not working. Hell, how indifferent these people are. Pretty warm here.

The important systemic feature of experience is: you can’t stop it from occurring. It just happens. 

Two aspects flow from this:

  • If you do not explicitly design for desired experience, experience will happen nevertheless, and may well be undesired.
  • Better to design for a smooth experience. Or a gripping one – if you are making a horror movie or an online game.

These seem to be no-brainers. But I keep coming across mountains of man-machine interactions where experience is left to chance. Like my groping in the dark for the sensor to enter the hotel.  The reason being, though easily said, designing experience is not easily done.

It’s not for nothing that Steve Jobs and his designer Jonathan Ive have walked the hall of fame for their iconic design of iPod. Steve’s brief to Jony was simple: Design for unmatched experience. 

​And experience is multi-sensory and multi-dimensional. Very few have mastered this better than Jobs and Ive. 

Where’s the personality?
In our daily lives, what we do not consciously realise, is that each of our human interaction is unique. There is a personality, a setting, choice of words, a diction, a tone, intent, a moment of uncomfortable pause, subtle body language, eye contact, associated thoughts. All these, and more, fuse to create our perception, and lead to our experience.

Take away the person and put a machine instead, even a human-like machine. And poof. The richness goes out of the window. Dial your bank and let its Interactive Voice Response (IVR) system take control. You’d know what I mean.

There are, of course, situations where we prefer accuracy, consistency and convenience to uniqueness. And ATM is a prime example of a popularly adopted man-machine interaction. But it had been a mystery in the aviation industry, why, while ATM was so readily embraced by all, it took so long for people to get used to self-serving check-in kiosks at the airports. Even after decades, many still need assistance at the kiosk, or prefer to deal with an airline staff at the counter, if possible.

Mostly we enjoy the richness that comes along with interacting with another fellow human in the same space and time. There are now attempts to simulate that, in some way. And here enters Artificial Intelligence (AI).

How about a companion?

We humans talk. And are talked at. This is what happens most of the time when we are with another person - at home, in office, giving instructions, asking questions. We interact in a natural way, using natural language.

Taking a cue from the way we talk, a whole body of research and development is galloping to find out: How can we interact with machines in a natural way, using natural language?

This is the next big thing, coming. To understand way the human brain uses language, interpret context. And simulate this via a natural interface - technically called User Interface, (UI) – and powered by Artificial Intelligence.

The example of Google Assistant will elucidate. It is your personal assistant. This virtual assistant is an AI platform served through your mobile phone, designed to give you the experience of a real one, and an efficient one at that. The two most important design parameters here are, how people use natural language (how we normally speak and understand others), and handsfree. Means, you can ‘talk’ to your assistant while driving or working on your laptop, and your assistant will respond nicely – hopefully, to your satisfaction. When and where is my meeting with the VP of the bank? When does my flight land in Adelaide? Mind you, here, the virtual assistant has to understand the context that you are asking for the flight of coming Tuesday and not the one next month.

Almost human? Getting there?

Disclaimer: The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those by the contributors alone and do not represent the views of any other organisation, the forum moderator or that of Aei4eiA.

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