FEED issue 29 Web

52 START-UP ALLEY Pulse Labs

Words by Ann-Marie Corvin


This month’s start-ups harness the power of AI for improved voice assistant technology, as well as a language tutor for kids

HUMAN INTERFACE DESIGN HAS SPENT DECADES BEING A VISUAL UI variables of a drop-down menu decision tree. There are many conversational loops involved in replying to even simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answers. “You need to be able to allow users to make decisions at any given time and you need to react appropriately and respond in a way that matches that input,” says Zwick. He adds that creating a skill for devices like Alexa or Google Assistant also involves assessing the responses of different demographics. “With kids, for example, you need to incorporate all the standard strategies for handling unexpected inputs, while also being able to ‘fail gracefully’ to advance the story, so if a response to a choice doesn’t make sense, it’s OK to pick one option and move on as if a sensible answer had been given.” Zwick and Suthan observed that there was a lack of tools or testing capable of generating this kind of insight that focuses Pulse Labs is a meeting of minds between two gym buddies – Abhishek Suthan, a former product strategy vice-president at Goldman Sachs, and Dylan Zwick, a PhD maths grad and one-time data science director at online retailer Overstock. Their love for early-morning high-intensity Insanity workouts in their former Salt Lake City neighbourhood was matched only by their passion for entrepreneurship and emerging tech. In particular, both were fascinated by the potential presented by conversational AI in the voice assistant ecosystem through devices such as Alexa, Google Assistant, Cortana and Siri. “Human interface design has spent decades being a visual UI and the transition to a conversational model poses several challenges,” says Zwick. One of main challenges for designers of voice apps and skills is that voice responses do not follow the limited

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