Updates on 2022/5/1

The pitfall of conversational UIs

A lot of tasks involve keeping track of state throughout, and conversations are terrible interfaces in which to keep track of state.

Tasks that involve keeping track of state:

  • Travel planning (what you've seen, which places/bookings you made)
  • Project management (what have I done? what's on my plate?)
  • Researching a topic (why do people keep all those tabs open if not to keep state?)
  • Decision making (what choices do I have? which is better how?)
  • Following instructions (what have I done? did I miss a step? how much is left?)
  • Editing [podcasts, videos, papers]
  • Understanding a complex system, like reading a map

Tasks that don't involve state, and are good for CUIs:

  • Querying specific trivia (weather, calendar events, adding todos)
  • Fire-and-forget tasks (Send X a message, play music)
  • AI as conversational partner (e.g. brainstorming, but then you'd need to "keep state" in another place like meeting notes)

If the user has to keep track of state in a conversation they have to hold state in their working memory (hard for no reason) or keep asking the interlocutor (what was step one again?).

So what's the solution? I think interactive/itemized workspaces. Instead of saying "book me a flight" and then doing the dozen back-and-forths to decide on all the details, just present all the choices to the user and have the user drag and drop the right flight onto their calendar. Much faster, more intuitive, and there's a clear, obvious visual analogue of what's happening.

Another solution may be documents you can talk to. Instead of holding a conversation with a bot, you and the bot collaborate together to write a document and build up a record of the salient points and ideas. Think GitHub Copilot for everything.