Siri, Alexa & Co. have conquered living rooms, bedrooms and offices via so-called intelligent loudspeakers like Amazon Echo or Google Home. More and more people use the voice-controlled devices to play music, make searches or control smart home devices. Yet few are aware of the impact the Internet of Things, which includes language assistants, has had on their lives. At the same time, many people are generally concerned that their privacy is threatened by increasing surveillance possibilities. The VA PEPR project (Voice assistants, people, experiences, practices and routines) aims to raise awareness of the social, societal and ethical implications of language assistants and to propose innovative design solutions.
The project aims to provide new insights into how people deal with the challenges posed by the increasing invasion of privacy by language assistants. To this end, VA PEPR investigates how these affect everyday patterns of action and routines as well as the interaction and social relationships between the members of a household. By focusing on the home environment, user experience and ethical issues, the project aims to contribute to a deeper understanding of this new technology. The scientific results are translated into guidelines and recommendations for the development, design and use of language assistants. The results should also provide information on questions of legal regulation.
The few surveys on the use of language assistants in Switzerland have been carried out by consultants or technology companies and primarily look at the topic from a business perspective. Knowledge about the use of language assistants in the home environment is largely lacking.
The interdisciplinary four-year project is funded by the SNF Sinergia Program. Co-ordinated by Dr. Sabine Junginger (HSLU D&K) and co-led by Dr. Ulrich Reimer (FH St Gallen), Dr. Jens Meissner (HSLU I) and Dr. Jon Rogers (University of Northumbria), the project team includes researchers with expertise in human-centred design, human-computer interaction, home automation, digital services, ambient assisted living, computer science, behavioural economics, socio-informatics, Open IoT, and health. Its aim are to generate novel insights into the emerging issues associated with VA use in Switzerland and beyond. It will advance the state of the art through its focus on the domestic set-up, user experience, and ethical issues. The scientific findings will be translated into guidance for users, developers, designers and service providers in business and industry. In collaboration with the Mozilla Foundation, the research team will continuously share and discuss its findings with an international community of experts.