Software is all around us. We interact with it every day. Sometimes we don’t even realize that we are interacting with a machine. Once a person realizes that there is no human behind the screen their experience is tainted. Why is that? It could be that the chatbot is trying too hard at being a human. The AI is simply not quite there yet to simulate a human interaction. It’s learning though and getting better everyday. Siri came a long way since it first was developed. I use it from time to time and ask progressively harder questions. It does well but sometimes, it ends in disaster. By us training Siri, we can help to shape the future of interaction and maybe one day we can reach the levels similar to movie “Her” directed by Spike Jonze.

The premise of the movie “Her” is about a man who got out of a long term relationship and never properly recovered. He didn’t expose himself to a social interaction and as a result found himself lonely. Longing for any form of interaction he tried installing a new operating system that was customized to the user and driven by AI. He soon developed a close relationship that grew into a romance with an operating system.

I often hear things like “I am bad with technology”, “technology hates me”. Part of it could be due to a bad design that makes us feel stupid after interaction. People feel like something is wrong with them, when they cannot figure out how to start a dishwasher. Have you seen today’s household appliances? Some interfaces do look like an airplane’s control panel. Buttons upon buttons, within buttons. The name of the buttons doesn’t really tell us the function either. I currently have a Whirlpool Dishwasher (WDF540PADM — model number for those who are interested), with the following cycles: sensor, heavy, normal, 1-hr wash, soak and clean. Unfortunately, the instructions are not present since the previous tenant probably either shredded it, burned it or threw it out the window after trying to read it. It is unclear what the difference is between those cycles. Is one better than the other? Does one take longer than another? What does sensor sense? I tried them all and found no noticeable differences. Dishes were clean after each cycle. That’s just the cycles, there are also heat settings, rinse options and numerous time controls. I just press random buttons and then press start. It beeps in a certain pattern telling me that it didn’t like the settings I picked. I am not fluent in beeps so I press more buttons, then start and voila, the door locks and dish washing begins. User experience and user interaction are becoming important if not an essential part of designing a new product. Consumers will choose a less superior product with less features as long as it is easy to use and interact with. UX/UI designers are working alongside engineers to create a product that provides us feedback and leaves a pleasant, satisfactory feeling after using it. Failure to design a usable product can be catastrophic.

Another reason people may be inclined to think they are bad with technology is because they are not taking time to learn or understand it. Programming or coding is becoming a mandatory subject that is being taught alongside other subjects like arts, math, physical education, and languages. It is important that everyone understands a basis of coding, not to better understand how to start a dish washing cycle, but to know how to say ‘hello’ to our devices. When I wrote the first ‘hello world’ in one of the programming languages and outputted it to a screen, I was so excited that I created something that was read, understood and executed by a machine. Having your work come alive in front of your eyes is a magical feeling, and to this day I get excited when I put something together in code and see the results. A great resource to understand how your phone thinks and makes decisions is to take a beginner’s online course into one of many programming languages. I myself take courses to learn new technologies and programming languages to stay relevant in my field and continue learning. I still get the same feeling as I did when I wrote my first ‘hello world’ as a kid.

Solutions Engineer/Architect @PDFTron. BASc in Computer Engineering with a minor in Business Management.