Voice controlled devices can't do a lot of things

Product Managers Start To Deal With The Virtual Assistant Problem

Voice controlled devices can't do a lot of things
Voice controlled devices can’t do a lot of things
Image Credit: Photo by Jan Antonin Kolar 🇨🇿 on Unsplash

So when you walk into the space that you live in, what’s the first thing that you do? For many of us, the first thing that we do is to shout out “Hey, Alexa turn on my music” or “Hey Google, turn on the lights in the kitchen.” These virtual assistants who are always there waiting for our next command to them have become a part of our lives. As powerful as they are, the product managers who make them understand a dirty little secret. They’ve started to hit the wall in terms of what they can do for us.


The Problem With Multistep Systems

I’m more than willing to admit that the virtual assistants that we have invited to live with us are pretty cool. I spend a chunk of each day trying to stump Google with questions such as “Who is Bigfoot” and “How long is the great wall of China?” (note: Google always seems to have an answer for me). However, it turns out that as good as these products are, they can’t do everything that we need them to do for us.

Case in point. Today’s virtual assistants are pretty good at doing the things that we ask them to do. This includes such things as turning on lights, turning down the temperature, and playing a musical playlist. However, where they stumble is when we’d like them to do more than one thing for us. The product development definition for virtual assistants needs to be updated. Virtual assistants do a good job of what they were designed from the beginning to do: connecting all of our services and electronic gadgets and making them work together. In fact, the systems are so clever that they learn our behavior patterns and then they start to anticipate our actions even before we do them.

Where virtual assistants let us down is when it comes to multistep tasks. Multistep tasks are difficult for users to create using a virtual assistant. In order to make a multistep task work in our homes, we often have to go out and purchase additional smart accessories that the virtual assistant can talk to in order to perform some action. Additionally, the virtual assistant has to memorize a specific phrase in order for a multistep task to be initiated.


How To Make Virtual Assistants Better

So what do customers want from their virtual assistants? What product managers are starting to learn is that we don’t want to have to use 1,000 commands to control 1,000 devices. What seems to have happened is that today’s virtual assistants have hit a wall – they are able to perform a limited number of tasks well and that’s pretty much it. Sadly, our virtual assistants assume too much. They believe that we understand what our needs are and what devices in our house will take care of them. Often we don’t.

So what should these virtual assistants be doing? It’s actually pretty simple. What they should be doing is watching us and then adapting to our specific needs. If product managers can make this happen, then we’ll have something to add to our product manager resume. This is the kind of proactive help that we are all looking for. The product managers who are responsible for the virtual assistants from Amazon, Google, Apple, and even Samsung all believe that they are making progress towards this goal. The products are being designed to constantly learn from usage and by doing so they can become more automated and personalized.

In order to be able to deliver the functionality that users want, the virtual assistants are going to have to be able to collect more of their user’s activity and personal data. The product managers are going to have to develop smarter machine learning tools that will run directly on the devices themselves. Customers are going to end up having to purchase internet enabled versions of just about everything that they currently own. Additionally, they’ll have to make sure that the devices that they have will work with the brand of virtual assistant that they choose to use. The goal is to get the various systems in your house to work in harmony. Product managers are going to have to find ways to make this happen without requiring their customers to program their virtual assistants.


What All Of This Means For You

Virtual assistants have arrived and most of us have a least one of these devices somewhere in our houses. These devices are very powerful and we can command them to do a long list of tasks for us. However, it turns out that they are not perfect. Virtual assistant product managers know that they have a challenge on their hands and they have to take a look at their product manager job description and try to come up with ways to deal with this issue.

Virtual assistants have worked their ways into our lives. It’s not uncommon for people to ask questions of their virtual assistant during the course of a given day. However, as good as these devices are at doing a single task for us, they fall down when we ask them to do multiple things at the same time. They do connect things together, but they can’t handle multistep requests. To get them to do many things, we have to purchase additional hardware. We also don’t want to have to memorize a long list of commands to get the device to do what we want it to do. Virtual assistants should watch us and learn based on what we do. In order to make this happen, product managers are going to have to collect more data on us and they are going to have to give virtual assistants more processing power. Product managers need to find a way to get virtual assistants to perform multiple step tasks without requiring programming.

The good news is that virtual assistants already do a great deal. However, as owners we really need them to do more. We need our virtual assistants to be able to perform the multistep tasks that we perform ourselves today. Product managers understand our needs and they are in the process of working towards this goal. Once virtual assistants are able to do all of the tasks that we do, that is when they will become indispensable parts of our lives.


– Dr. Jim Anderson Blue Elephant Consulting –
Your Source For Real World Product Management Skills™


Question For You: Do you think that it is possible for a virtual assistant to have too much data about its owner?


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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

I’d like to tell you that the calling to become a product manager is only received by those of us with the highest morals. However, I really can’t say that. What this means is that in the world of product managers, there are the good ones and the not so good ones. I like to spend my time talking about what the goods ones are able to accomplish. However, every so often the bad ones do something that is so clearly bad that I feel compelled to talk about it. It turns out that some of the bad ones work for Greenway Health and they have done some bad things.

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