Tech companies must ensure that AI assistants can understand more accents, researchers say
- Tech companies like Amazon and Apple must cater for a more diverse range of accents when designing algorithms for virtual assistants like Alexa and Siri, researchers have said.
- The team interviewed consumers in India to learn more about their experiences – both positive and negative – of using these platforms, and found some were frustrated by the platforms’ inability to understand them.
- The researchers hope the findings will help tech companies to better design their algorithms, to help cater for a wider range of consumers.
Challenges facing consumers
Technology companies must ensure that AI assistants like Alexa and Siri can understand a diverse range of accents, researchers have said, after finding that people interact differently with these platforms depending on their accent.
Led by Dr Emmanuel Mogaji from Keele University Business School, the team conducted interviews with tech users in India to identify the challenges they face when using artificially intelligent interactive voice assistants (AIIVIs) such as these, and to better understand how consumers interact with these services.
The researchers hope the findings will enable companies like Amazon, Apple, and Google, to design their algorithms in a way that give English-speaking users with accents a better experience when using AIIVIs.
Emotional and rational responses
The findings, published in the Journal of Consumer Behaviour, indicate several important factors influencing users’ interactions with these platforms which are specifically related to their accents. These are the context in which they use the AIIVI – privately or publicly – and how they react to the engagement, both emotionally and rationally.
Participants described how a virtual assistant’s inability to understand an accent in private was less problematic than when in public, for example at a party or in an office environment, where it could cause embarrassment if an AIIVI fails to understand a request.
Some reported having negative emotional reactions when their AIIVIs failed to understand their accents, or when a family member tried to correct them on their accent as a result, reporting feelings of anger, frustration, and even feeling ashamed.
Recommendations for tech companies
Lead author Dr Mogaji said this could influence consumers’ decisions to stop using these services, and urged tech companies to consider how they can better train algorithms to detect consumers’ accents.
He added: “Language is a fundamental aspect of culture, and different regions and communities have their own distinct accents. Even in England, there are varieties of English accents, by accounting for a variety of accents, technology developers can tap into a broader market and reach users in different regions, expanding the technology's reach and impact.
“Moreso, I would be expecting brands and business owners to be mindful of the names they use for their companies and products. Look at Hyundai and Ikea now doing adverts to teach consumers how to pronounce their brand names, so selecting a suitable and easy to pronounce brand/product name would be helpful going forward as more people are using voices to search.”
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