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Voice Assistant Research

Workshop and research I’ve done to find out if voice assistants could help middle-aged people improve their digital skills

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Intro

Our world can be a scary and overwhelming place for people born before the digital revolution. Interfaces are often way too complicated and, for many, the use of mouse and keyboard is really not as intuitive as we think. I wanted to help people understand technology – by using technology.

 

The idea was that voice is a more intuitive medium of interaction than a mouse or a touchscreen, since we’ve been using it our whole lives. It should be easier then to get things done on our smartphones using only voice commands – like simply asking the phone about the weather, instead of downloading and using a weather app. I wanted to check if my hunch was true.

 

I wanted to see if voice assistants could help people with basic digital skills get better at technology – so that they use it more and stress about it less.

 

So I’ve done some researching to find out!

Image site cover showing a Google Home speaker and a laptop

Attitude towards voice assistants among middle-aged people with basic digital skills

Dissertation research

AGH University of Science and Technology

My research - TL;DR version

I used a structured in-depth interview (IDI), during which I conducted a workshop, a questionnaire and the interview itself with elements of observation. I wanted to explore the attitude towards voice assistants among middle-aged people, their concerns and apprehensions in the matter and to see if they change their minds after becoming familiar with the technology during the workshop.

The respondents tried a number of voice assistant features and – as a result – changed their attitude towards it to a much more positive one. Using a voice assistant also seemed easier and faster to them than using a phone in a traditional way. However, their worries about the safety when using the technology haven’t changed much from their preconceived notions.

One could draw out a conclusion that voice is a way of human-computer interaction that has the potential to someday be completely natural and intuitive, even for people with low digital skills. Or at the very least - it could help them improve their skills in the digital world.

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Full description

Images showing tools and assets I used in my research: Recruitment website, slideshows, pre-IDI Form, post-IDI Form, IDI Notes template and an excel spreadsheets of Results

Methodology

The basis of my research was a structured in-depth interview (IDI), during which I conducted a workshop, a questionnaire and the interview itself with elements of observation. Individual conversation was crucial in this particular research. I had to eliminate group influence and social conformism, often present in focus group interviews (FGIs).

 

In my research, individual attitudes and opinions were paramount. Although voice technology itself is not a sensitive topic, the attitude towards it might be. It’s often the result of previously formed views that the respondents might not be willing to share in the group. Unfortunately, because of the pandemic situation, my research had to be conducted remotely.

 

This structure definitely had its obstacles, considering my target group had to be middle-aged individuals with basic digital skillset. A few of my participants had to drop out from the interviews, because we failed to successfully connect on Zoom.

Goals

1. Creating a versatile workshop, where I could teach the basics of voice assistants, show their capabilities and get to know the opinions regarding the usefulness of the features

 

2. Testing the created workshop on a selected research sample

 

3. Examining the opinions, attitudes and apprehensions towards the Voice Assistant – before and after the workshop

Main questions

1. What is the attitude towards voice assistants among middle-aged people?

2. What are they concerned about when using the voice assistant?

3. Will their attitudes and apprehensions change after becoming familiar with it during the workshop?

4. Could voice technology be actually useful to them?

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Structure

The IDI was divided into three parts.

1.
Pre - interview + questionnaire

Checking their knowledge and attitude

2.
The workshop

Playing with the Voice Assistant features

3.
Final interview + questionnaire

Checking for any changes in their attitude

1. The initial interview + questionnaire

I started with a few questions that allowed me to get to know the respondent's knowledge, attitude and apprehensions regarding the Assistant.

I wanted to ask these questions at the very beginning, even before explaining voice technology, to get answers based on people’s own experiences, without the impact of my research.

Then my respondents filled out a questionnaire, in which their initial attitude and apprehensions could be examined in more detail.

2. The workshop

The second part was the workshop. I explained the basics of the voice assistant and helped my respondents with activating it on their phone. I prepared a list of the assistant’s features and divided it into 5 categories. The respondents tried all of the features themselves and were encouraged to share their feelings and opinions about each one.

3. Final interview + questionnaire

After the respondents got to know the Assistant and its features, I again asked them a few questions about their attitude and whether it changed (and if so – how). Then the respondents filled out the same questionnaire again and the interview ended.

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Results - 3 biggest conclusions

If you’re interested (and speak polish) – a more detailed version of results from my research can be found in my thesis, which I’ve linked at the end of the page.

Respondents now have a much more positive attitude towards the voice assistant.

After getting to know the technology and trying it themselves, ambivalent individuals quickly warmed up to the Assistant and negatively inclined people have eventually changed their attitude to a much more positive one.

1

Apprehensions towards a voice assistant have not changed

Most all of the fears and suspicions regarding voice assistants have not changed after the workshop. Respondents were still worried about the safety of their personal data, they didn’t like that the Assistant had access to their e-mail, phone number, location or files. They were also still worried about being “listened to” all the time by their phone.

2

Using a voice assistant seemed easier and faster than using a smartphone.

Some thought that a conversation is a more intuitive medium for interaction with a phone, specially in more complex activities. They much preferred it over having to learn to use new apps. Some just had a hard time with the manual aspect of using a phone (for example hitting the correct letters on a keyboard) so they were glad the Assistant can write messages for them.

All of the respondents agreed, that using a voice assistant is easier than using a smartphone.

3

Closing words

Voice technology is reversing the existing human-computer dynamics. It is no longer us humans who have to learn technology – the technology is now learning us – our language, way of thinking and speaking, to help us with our daily activities. It's not yet another complex software with a badly designed interface. There are no mice, no keyboards, no multi-finger gestures, no incomprehensible processes or confusing interfaces.

 

There is the user and their voice. A way of communication that has the potential to be completely natural and intuitive, even for people with low digital skills.

 

Learning technology by using technology.

 

What a time to be a tech-savvy son and helping my parents to check the calendar without lifting a finger (literally!)

 

Go VUI! 💜

Hey Google, that's it

Thanks for reading until the very end.
If you're interested, check out my other projects too.

And remember to get enough sleep today, if you can!

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