• 07-31-2019

  • 6 min read

  • Dasha Fomina

Top 7 Must-Read Books for Conversation Designers

Originally published on Voice UI.


    James Vlahos — Talk to Me: How Voice Computing Will Transform the Way We Live, Work, and Think​



    Whether you are ready to seriously get into conversation design or just curious about the looming AI-dominated future, this book is a treasure trove of priceless ideas. Having spent years as a tech journalist, James Vlahos finally got to explore one fundamental question: What happens when our computers become as articulate, compassionate, and creative as we are? In search of an answer, James interviewed industry-leading researchers from Amazon, Google, and Apple. He discusses how conversational AI will impact our society on different levels: from economy and culture to psychology and ethics.


    The book also has an impressive origin story: when James found out his father was terminally-ill himself he decided to try and conserve his personality. So the writer recorded him speaking 91,970 words on various topics and as a result, created a Dadbot — a text bot that allows James to converse with his now-deceased father.


    Cathy Pearl — Designing Voice User Interfaces: Principles of Conversational Experiences


    Filled with practical examples and best practices, this book is a must-read for anyone interested in the Voice User Interfaces(VUIs). Head of Conversation Design Outreach at Google, author Cathy Pearl created a practical and concise book, that’ll help you understand basic VUI design principles.


    No matter what you’re trying to build — a mobile app, a smart toy, or a virtual assistant, the book will help you choose a speech recognition engine, and teach you how to measure your VUI’s performance and make further improvements. But the author doesn’t stop just there: she also explains how to make your VUI not just functional, but great and covers a variety of advanced design topics: from understanding key VUI design concepts to testing your VUI application with users and beyond.



    Byron Reese — The Fourth Age: Smart Robots, Conscious Computers, and the Future of Humanity ​


    Byron Reese is a serial tech entrepreneur and a person behind the industry-leading technology research company Gigaom. Having spent most of his life exploring the intersections of technology with human history, in his new book Byron tells us about the next upcoming global change driven by AI and robotics.


    According to the writer, humanity has already experienced three such changes at different times. Now, as we’re standing on the cusp of a new technological revolution, we should prepare to challenge our understanding of the world around us. How will ubiquitous automation impact employment? How should we talk about machine consciousness and creative computers? How will the upcoming tech revolution change our traditional notions of life, death, and the digital afterlife? This book raises many fundamental questions, but it doesn’t leave you on your own with them, rather provides a viable framework to help you deal with the fourth age.



    Michael Cohen, James P. Giangola and Jennifer Balogh — Voice User Interface Design


    A perfect how-to guide to creating an effective VUI design, this book provides a feasible methodology, scientifically based on principles in linguistics, psychology, and language technology. The authors generously share practical examples collected over the years of working at Nuance Communications, the market leader in ASR development and deployment.


    First, they give a comprehensive overview of the most common VUI design issues and provide a description of the technology. Then the authors show how to specify requirements and make high-level design decisions during the definition phase. Next, with an in-depth description of the design phase, they provide clear explanations and demonstrations of each design principle and show its real-world applications. In the end, the authors focus on problems, which are unique to VUI design in system development, testing, and tuning.



    Tonya N. Stebbins, Kate Burridge — For the Love of Language



    To become a good VUI designer, you should have at least some basic understanding of how languages work. And this book is a great place to start: it offers strategies for learning about the workings of a language, addresses real-world problems through the prism of linguistics, explores the systems that organize language, illustrates how languages change over time, and much more.

    Having years of academic experience in linguistics, the authors provide many engaging real-life examples, that make the book extremely easy to digest.


    Clifford Nass and Scott Brave — Wired for Speech: How Voice Activates and Advances the Human-Computer Relationship


    Authors Clifford Nass and Scott Brave offer a fresh and original take on interactive voice technologies. Wired for Speech proves that people are “voice-activated”: voice technologies make us respond and behave the way we would do in social situations.

    The book breaks down the issues we are concerned about today: gender stereotypes in e-commerce, a car’s voice and drivers’ safety, perception of synthetic voices vs. human-like voices, and much more. Having ten years of research experience at Nass’s Stanford laboratory, the authors share their insights to help designers build better interfaces get a better idea of the machines that speak with us.

    Jon Scieszka — Math Curse


    Since math is a queen of all sciences, no reading list — even the one for conversation designers — can do without a math book. Written by Jon Scieszka and Lane Smith, Math Curse is the Alice in Wonderland of all math textbooks out there.

    It starts with a statement made by the heroine’s math teacher Mrs. Fibonacci, “You know, you can think of almost everything as a math problem.” After that, the heroine begins her journey where she sees everything in her life as math. Math Curse introduces algebra, logic, and fractions, posing questions like: “What is the next number in the sequence 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13?” and “Which tastes greater? a) 1/2 a pizza b) 1/2 an apple pie.” Who knew you can brush up on your knowledge of math by reading a children’s book?


    Do you know a book we should add to our list? Let us know!

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