User Interfaces dominate our lives

If your life is anything like mine, you interact with dozens of user interfaces every day and don’t realize it. When you connect to the Bluetooth in your car, withdraw cash at an ATM or pay your bills online, buy your morning coffee, conduct a Search on Google, book your Uber, or book a flight on Expedia… you’re interacting with a new UI each time. On any given day, we are learning these UIs on-the-fly, as it is often the first time we’ve interacted with them. When the Shake Shack on Stanford campus changed its ordering system to be tablet-based (rather than ordering from a human at the counter); I struggled to complete my order as I navigated through the new UI for the first time.

The primary purpose of a UI is to enable a user to interact with a program or computer, in as simple or effective a way as possible. We’ve seen UIs and input tools evolve over the decades, from command-line interfaces, to character-based interfaces to graphical user interfaces (GUIs), as well as mouses and keyboards. Each UI advancement has lowered the friction and increased the human operability with computers, but they’ve come with considerable UI fragmentation. This fragmentation has created the requirement for humans to learn a countless number of changing UIs in their everyday lives. Put differently, we’ve learned to cope with an unnatural method of interacting with computers and have become numb to this cognitive load of learning new UIs.

Conversational AI is changing how we interact with computers

Conversational and Generative AI are revolutionizing the way we interact with computers; they are propelling us away from traditional UIs towards a natural and intuitive form of communication — conversation. Put simply, AI is creating a new layer for users to interact with computers that will eliminate the need for self-directed graphical user interfaces. We anticipate traditional UIs will go away, and you’ll simply speak directly with AI agents to complete the tasks that you need completed.

Imagine walking into a busy airport, and being able to converse with an intelligent AI Agent at the airport kiosk that can check you in, print your bag tags for you, tell you how long security will take, tell you where your gate is with precision, tell you where the best restaurant in the airport is for your dietary restrictions, whether there is a line-up there right now, offer you the ability to place your order in advance, and tell you when boarding will commence — all through a simple conversation. In that same scenario today, you’d need to interact with multiple UIs from the clunky airport kiosk, finding the security checkpoint on your own, wandering the airport and reading the menus to find the right restaurant or researching it on your phone, and checking the monitors for your flight gate and boarding time. We’ve learned to live with the clunky experience, but the conversational nature of AI today is going to quickly make this user experience obsolete.

Dynamic and Personalized

With the advancements in Natural Language Processing, smaller and more finely-tuned LLMs that are fit-for-purpose, and the dramatic increase in computing horsepower, AI Agents will become increasingly better at interpreting and responding to our queries, providing accurate and relevant information in real-time. This conversational AI paradigm not only simplifies user interactions but also eliminates the steep learning curve associated with traditional interfaces, making technology more accessible to a wider range of users. As a result, tasks like finding information, booking appointments, or even controlling smart home devices can now be effortlessly accomplished through a simple conversation with the computer. Your AI Agent will learn the ideal temperature preferences at home, and can pre-set them for you, saving you the time of needing to program your Nest settings. When ordering groceries, you can simply tell your AI Agent what you want, and it will populate the cart for you online and place the order for pickup or delivery. You don’t need to interact with a UI at all, and as it becomes personalized could auto-populate the cart for you to review.

Starting slow, but accelerating quickly

We’re already starting to see an accelerated adoption of AI that eclipses any prior technology. As a comparison, when the Apple app store was launched in 2008 there were just over 500 apps. Within one year there were over 120,000 apps (do you remember… “there’s an app for that”?). The proliferation of conversational AI will eclipse the proliferation of apps and mobile phones — the necessary technology already sits in the palms of our hands, and we’re already cognitively adjusted to interacting with countless UIs.

Companies will most likely start to adopt AI Agents into the consumer value chain in the next 12–18 months; these will touch components of your consumer experience (see Priceline’s latest AI Agent for booking accommodations). Within 3–5 years, these Agents will rapidly take over the bulk of the customer user experience and value chain, and with that adoption traditional UIs will start to disappear — there will be a minimal need for them as AI offers a dramatically better experience.