In Search of…Kai Ryssdal and the Amazon Echo?

Last Thursday, I finally found NPR Marketplace host Kai Ryssdal after a long year of looking.

Where was he? Why did I spend a year trying to find him?

I’ve been on an odyssey for the last year to find Kai Ryssdal via the Amazon Echo – the product with a conversational interface (also sometimes referred to as ‘Alexa’) powered by machine learning algorithms. This journey to find Ryssdal has been part of the ongoing research I’ve been doing for my talk: AI and CX: the 20 Year Curve.

Ironically, on or about the same day that Ryssdal and his colleague Molly Wood talked about how Amazon’s Echo was not good enough –

“We have an Alexa, other than to play music it’s my daughter’s favorite tell- a-joke toy,”said Kai Ryssdal. His colleague, Molly Wood, responded and said “…the research bears that out. People stop using it after a few months.”

…on the very day they said this, I finally found Ryssdal and the NPR Marketplace program on Echo.

On or around last Thursday, February 9, 2017 Amazon’s machine learning-driven conversational interface improved enough so that any user could simply say, “Alexa, play Marketplace.”

Why is this important?

A year ago when I started giving this talk, I could not get the Amazon Echo to find Kai Ryssdal and Marketplace. Echo would play rock music. It would pull up a random radio station. Or it would get stymied.

Then, when the voice interface failed, I looked through the Alexa iPad app to see if I could find Marketplace. After an exhaustive effort that no customer would ever do, I finally found episodes of Marketplace. But, only episodes from years ago – not the most recent.

I showed audiences around the country how painful it was to find Ryssdal.

This poor experience frustrates customers but demonstrates accurately my overall hypothesis: it takes 20+ years between the invention of a new technology and the development of a product that customers love.

Why?

Because for the first 10 or 15 years technology optimism pervades and developers forget about customers. As Molly Wood correctly said on Marketplace last week, the research for the Amazon Echo is clear. Most regular customers who happen to get an Echo stop using it after a few months.

Echo, or its descendants, will eventually be designed in a way that customers love (or will at least tolerate). But we aren’t there yet. The technology is amazing but the customer experience sucks.

That’s not surprising since we are only just over halfway through the 20 year curve of machine learning (I trace year 1 back to the Darpa Challenge for self-driving cars, which was successfully won by several teams in 2005).

So – do product managers have to wait 10 more years?

No. Product managers could do better now.

In the meantime, the good news is that, in addition to using your Alexa as a kitchen timer, you can hear the business news. Just say, “Alexa, play Marketplace.”