In my previous blog, Soft Skills in a Software-Driven World, I talked about the important role that people and their soft skills will play in the intelligent enterprise. Here I’d like to continue that discussion with my view on how natural language processing (NLP), virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) will make the experience of the intelligent enterprise more emotional for us as well.

Our expectations for intelligent systems to understand us, help us, and connect with us on an emotional level will increase exponentially in the coming years. We will be conversing and interacting more and more with machines, expecting them to sound and react in a way that is convincingly human. We already see these technologies developing rapidly for the world of commerce, and consumer trends have and will continue to drive our expectations of software in the workplace. NLP, AR and VR will make business tasks more personal, conversational, visual and visceral – thus more emotional. Once people get a taste for a richer and more compelling user experience for recreational purposes, the demand will increase for business tasks.

The rise of affective computing

Abstractions of today’s digital age such as the keyboard and computer mouse are neither natural nor particularly intuitive. Like reading and writing, they are learned and not innate. These kinds of “meta” interactions will increasingly take a backseat role, making room for more natural kinds of dealings with machines that rely on some of our earliest learned abilities and capabilities: seeing, hearing, and speaking. These innate abilities are connected at a very deep level with emotion. And it is emotion that is credited with being the magic key that unlocks learning, engagement and memory. The importance of emotion has not gone unnoticed by technology or industry and has given rise to a branch of computer science known as “affective computing,” pioneered by the MIT Media Lab in the mid-1990s. The goals of this new science reaches in both directions: striving to make computers understand human emotion better as well as giving computers more emotional intelligence.

These advances have not been lost on business software makers like SAP. For example, we are currently researching and crafting the personality attributes that SAP CoPilot, our digital assistant for the enterprise, should have. We are also investing in how, using machine learning, it should adapt to user’s individual preferences. Just as all politics is local, all emotional connection is personal. This is why personalization is so important. If you have ever talked to Alexa or any other digital assistant, you know that it is a very different experience from typing a search query into a search engine. The reason is that troupes of smart people are adding personality to today’s digital assistants. In the area of enterprise software, conversing with a digital assistant promises much more positive emotional potential than using a traditional GUI-based ERP system.

What’s next

While we are making great strides in conversational user experience for business users (and of course we are still in the early stages), we cannot and should not stop thinking ahead. The next, “next-gen” frontier will be immersive experience (IX), the term that bundles virtual, augmented and mixed reality. Being transported visually and acoustically in time and space gets under your skin and goes directly to primitive centers of the brain. That level of tangibility surpasses anything we might experience today with a traditional GUI or even with simple video. Again, once people become accustomed to this in their private lives, they will demand more of it in their work environment.

My prediction is that work is about to get much more human and much more rewarding. As technology leaders, let’s embrace the future disruption and help everyone to succeed in the coming intelligent and emotional enterprise.

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