Hardware, Software & the Internet of Things
June 23–25, 2015 • San Francisco, CA

The design of personalities and natural language UX

Mark Stephen Meadows (Botanic, LLC)
4:35pm–5:15pm Thursday, 06/25/2015
Location: Southside Theater (Bldg D)
Average rating: *****
(5.00, 1 rating)
Slides:   1-PDF 

Prerequisite Knowledge

A general awareness that sensors are being applied to measure users. A keen interest in the coming 3-5 years of technical advancement of user interface design. A basic understanding of the business models of Google, Amazon, Facebook and others. Awareness of Snowden and privacy concerns.


Whether it’s wearables, the Internet of Things, robots, or our mobile device, we now talk with our computers. And these computers measure us.

These systems are appearing all over the place. Amazon’s Echo, Apple’s Siri, Microsoft’s Cortana, Nuance’s Nina, and Google’s Now are just a few examples of systems that measure the emotion in our voice, parse the intention of our words, and use that data to make both recommendations and decisions. Natural language processing and analytics technology is now working, and so the next question is: How do we best apply it? This is a design question that has ethical implications.

The user-experience of NLP is an uncharted terrain in which the psychologist takes the role that the graphic designer used to play. More importantly, when we talk with a computer and it makes recommendations on how to take medication, or spend our money, an important power dynamic occurs: Does the system ask us to question what it says, or does the system manipulate us to follow its advice? Does the voice in the machine allow freedom of choice?

This talk looks at natural language technologies in general – and the design of conversational avatars and robots in particular – as a strange new design space in which power dynamics and the role of psychology merit examination, not only for improving user experience, but also for avoiding a dystopic future in which privacy is not just invaded, but fully owned. The talk provides solutions, signposts, and best practices. Oh, and a demo or three.

Photo of Mark Stephen Meadows

Mark Stephen Meadows

Botanic, LLC

Meadows is an American author, inventor, and designer. With two decades’ experience in VR, fifteen years in AI, and five years in robotics, he has helped design voice-control and conversational characters at some of the world’s top research labs (Xerox PARC, SRI, Waag, others). As President of BOTanic he leads the company to develop voice solutions in the automotive, mobile, and IoT industries. He has worked as a government-level consultant in both hemispheres, and has written four books that examine technology and their social consequences. He is based in San Francisco.

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Picture of Kate Benson
Kate Benson
06/28/2015 8:41pm PDT

Would it be possible to receive your slide deck ?
Thanks !