Conversational UI

Lots of what passes for an AI revolution is actually a change in interaction model, enabled by machine learning that has gotten "good enough" to suggest a single answer to a query.

This is an important shift. As compute becomes smaller and cheaper, it is infecting everyday objects that we don't think of as "computers". In the future, everything will be a little smart. Conversational UI will be an important tool for interacting with these smart things, because many will be too small to have screens.


  • Works anywhere — scales from screenless devices to mobile to Desktop.
  • Conversations are an anthropomorphic way to interact with computers.
  • Conversational UI can seamlessly blend interactions between people and artificial intelligence agents.
  • Messages, conversations and notifications have heavy conceptual overlap.
  • Search, conversations, notifications, messages and cards — these things have a strong overlap in terms of jobs and features.
    • This is why WeChat is able to expand into a platform.

Risks and Challenges

  • The rule of thumb for machine learning is that 80% success rates are easy, but the next 10%-15% gain is hard.
  • Failure hurts. How often are you quietly exasperated by Siri? When users feel punished by failure, they stop exploring and stick to the beaten path.
  • Where AI falls short, careful UI can patch up the differences. This is where design patterns come in. WeChat does this very well, with structured responses.

Design Patterns

  • The Cooperative Principle: we trust that others we converse with are being cooperative, and will contribute usefully to the conversation. Avoid breaking this deal at all costs.
  • Be As Smart as A Puppy. If the computer is dumb, make it charming.
  • Keep conversations structured. If you can't have 100% accuracy, narrow the problem space with careful UI design.
  • The Jack Principles of conversational UI
  • Augmented conversations — chatbots can seamlessly switch between bot and human. This is already a thing on WeChat.

Stray thoughts

  • When voice assistants get good enough, every business will have a programmable API, because every business has a phone.
  • What happens when we have many of these bots, conversing with each other?