Tea, Earl Grey, Hot: Designing Speech Interactions from the Imagined Ideal of Star Trek

Speech is now common in daily interactions with our devices, thanks to voice user interfaces (VUIs) like Alexa. Despite their seeming ubiquity, designs often do not match users’ expectations. Science fiction, which is known to influence design of new technologies, has included VUIs for decades. Star Trek: The Next Generation is a prime example of how people envisioned ideal VUIs. Understanding how current VUIs live up to Star Trek’s utopian technologies reveals mismatches between current designs and user expectations, as informed by popular fiction. Combining conversational analysis and VUI user analysis, we study voice interactions with the Enterprise’s computer and compare them to current interactions. Independent of futuristic computing power, we find key design-based differences: Star Trek interactions are brief and functional, not conversational, they are highly multimodal and context-driven, and there is often no spoken computer response. From this, we suggest paths to better align VUIs with user expectations.

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