Humans are developing extreme emotional connections with their virtual assistants—so much so that about a quarter of regular users say they have sexual fantasies about those digital voice assistants.
That’s according to new research by J. Walter Thompson and Mindshare (pdf).
The virtual assistants include devices such as Amazon’s Alexa and Echo brands and Apple’s Siri smartphone virtual assistant. They’re used for giving verbal instructions to and consequently operating residential Internet of Things applications, playing music and reading the news out loud, among other things.
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The increasing emotional attachment could be a boon for marketers, the research suggests.
“A deeper emotional attachment is starting to develop,” Mindshare writes. It says this increasing attachment is caused by improvements in understanding of the user, by the virtual assistant. Affinity increases the more the voice assistant understands the user. Artificial Intelligence (AI) improvements are behind those recent gains, and the user understanding is likely to increase as AI continues to improve over time.
People like thinking they’re conversing with a genuine person when they talk to the devices, Mindshare says. According to its research, 70 percent of those interviewed want that. In addition, the report says, “Over a third (37 percent) of regular voice technology users say that they love their voice assistant so much that they wish it were a real person.”
I’ve written about voice assistants before: Recent research, unrelated to Mindshare’s study, projects a rapid uptake of the voice-first technology, with a footprint of 33 million devices globally by the end of this year.
That makes the technology hugely important for marketers if they can harness it. It could develop into a gatekeeper for brands’ access to consumers.
Human behavior from devices
“I’d like voice technology to understand me on the level that humans understand each other,” one respondent said.
And marketers are beginning to understand that importance.
“It is interesting, when something acts naturally and human back to you, how much we imbue it with sentience, with human personality,” says Martin Reddy, co-founder of PullString, a computer conversational platform vendor, in the Mindshare/J. Walter Thompson report.
That personality, and thus the device’s lovable trait, is related to anthropomorphization—the ascribing of human behavior to a thing. That idea has been around since the first mythology—human-like gods. We know it, too, from Hollywood a la The Jungle Book, where the cute animals assume human characters, for example.
And it appears people want it in their digital assistants, too, which would account for why we are seeing the voice element become loved, even though the containing device doesn’t look humanoid—smartphones still look like smartphones, voice-first devices don’t look like robots on the whole, although that may change.
And, of course, along with love typically comes trust. That’s serious because if marketers can get consumers to love their message-carrying systems (the voice-first device in this case), then trust follows. And when folks trust, it’s easier to sell them things.
“Once trust grows, emotional bonds can grow, too,” the report says.
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