It's Good to Talk: A Comparison of Using Voice Versus Screen-Based Interactions for Agent-Assisted Tasks

Leon Reicherts, Yvonne Rogers, L Capra, E Wood, Tu Dinh Duong, N Sebire
in ACM Transactions on Computer-Human Interaction, Journal article


Voice assistants have become hugely popular in the home as domestic and entertainment devices. Recently, there has been a move towards developing them for work settings. For example, Alexa for Business and IBM Watson for Business were designed to improve productivity, by assisting with various tasks, such as scheduling meetings and taking minutes. However, this kind of assistance is largely limited to planning and managing user's work. How might they be developed to do more by way of empowering people at work? Our research is concerned with achieving this by developing an agent with the role of a facilitator that assists users during an ongoing task. Specifically, we were interested in whether the modality in which the agent interacts with users makes a difference: How does a voice versus screen-based agent interaction affect user behavior? We hypothesized that voice would be more immediate and emotive, resulting in more fluid conversations and interactions. Here, we describe a user study that compared the benefits of using voice versus screen-based interactions when interacting with a system incorporating an agent, involving pairs of participants doing an exploratory data analysis task that required them to make sense of a series of data visualizations. The findings from the study show marked differences between the two conditions, with voice resulting in more turn-taking in discussions, questions asked, more interactions with the system and a tendency towards more immediate, faster-paced discussions following agent prompts. We discuss the possible reasons for why talking and being prompted by a voice assistant may be preferable and more effective at mediating human-human conversations and we translate some of the key insights of this research into design implications.