The New Siri on iOS 7.1 Courtesy Apple

As voice assistants like Amazon’s Alexa and Apple’s Siri get more popular, a new study found what humans think about the technology -- and it sounds like the 2013 movie “Her.”

The study found people who use voice assistants regularly wish it were human, while others admitted to sexually fantasizing about their virtual assistant.

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The study, which focuses on voice technology implications for brands, was conducted by J. Walter Thompson Innovation Group London, a platform for research and analytics, and the media agency Mindshare. More than 30,000 respondents in the U.K. took part in a two-week self-ethnography project from January - March 2017, jotting down their behaviors and attitudes related to voice technology. Researchers then analyzed two focus groups of 12 of the thousands of participants.

Why Do People Use Voice Assistants?

The study found 45 percent of regular users say they use the technology because “it’s fun,” which could be attributed to Alexa’s snarky responses, Siri’s jokes, etc. Meanwhile, 87 percent of regular voice assistant users say when the technology “works properly, it really simplifies my life.” Researchers predict voice assistants will be dominant at home and in vehicle (manufacturers like Hyundai and Volkswagen are already integrating Alexa in products), while retail and other public spaces will follow.

For the study, researchers at Neuro-Insight used brain-imaging technology to analyze how the human brain reacts to voice assistants. They found voice interactions required significantly lower levels of brain activity than text-based. That could explain why 41 percent of all regular voice users said they use the technology when they are feeling lazy.

“We found that many tasks demanded a lower ‘cognitive load’ from users when they used voice commands rather than text,” Heather Andrew, UK CEO of Neuro-Insight, told International Business Times. “In other words, voice is a more natural tool for us to use than typing, clicking or swiping on-screen.”

Why Don’t People Use Voice Technology?

Some smartphone users back away from voice technology because of embarrassment, with 22 percent saying they’d “feel stupid” for using it, the study found. However, researchers believe self-consciousness will disappear over time,.

“Over the course of our research for JWT and Mindshare, we found that initial responses to voice assistants become more positive as the study progressed – a period of only about 30 minutes,” Andrew said. “So that indicates there is scope for many people who aren’t enamored with voice assistants to warm up to them given time spent with them.”

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Meanwhile, 48 percent of non-voice users said they didn’t see a point in using the technology, while others cited privacy. Forty-four percent of regular voice users said they were “worried” about companies listening into their conversations while using a voice assistant.

Voice Assistants Acting Like Humans

Researchers found people want their voice assistant to understand them properly, which is not a surprise, especially for those with heavy accents.

“When the technology doesn’t always recognize or respond correctly to regional accents, that’s a major stumbling block which could deter a user from investing fully in the technology or the brand behind it,” Andrew said.

Sixty percent of smartphone users said “if voice assistants could understand me properly and speak back to me as well as a human can, I’d use them all the time.”

So does this mean companies should make voice assistants more human? Andrew said they should, but to a certain extent.

“A more natural, human experience will encourage more natural interactions which are easier for us, therefore we’ll use those assistants more,” Andrew said. “However, there is a point at which the human-technology spectrum falls into ‘uncanny valley’ territory. This is the phenomenon of encountering a robot, or computer generated persona, that falls between what is definitely human and definitely robotic. It triggers strong feelings of unease and even revulsion, that will quickly turn us away from interacting with the offending object in future.”

Humans Catching Feeling For Voice Assistants?

In the movie “Her,” Joaquin Phoenix gets romantically attached to his voice assistant, and the study suggests that might not be such a fictional idea. Twenty-six percent of regular voice tech users said they have had a sexual fantasy about their voice assistant. Meanwhile, 37 percent of regular voice technology users said they love their voice assistant so much that they wish it were a real person.

Voice Assistant Market

The virtual assistant market is set to be worth more than $3 billion by 2020. Amazon, Apple and Google are the key players in the voice assistant market. Amazon’s Echo gadgets are taking the lead in the U.S., with the company’s recently released the Echo Look and Echo Show. Amazon is set to control 70 percent of the American voice-enabled speaker device market this year, a forecast from eMarketer this month said.

Samsung is also trying to keep up by launching its voice interface Bixby for the Galaxy S8, which was released recently. Microsoft has created Cortana, but it lacks strong mobile platform or smart speaker to achieve scale, the study said. Other companies using voice technology include Facebook with its M assistant on Messenger, Starbucks with its “barista bot,” which the company is currently trialing, and even toy-seller Mattel, with its Hello Barbie 6.

The Speak Easy study found voice technology users are significantly more likely to be young, male and affluent. Google voice search and Siri have the highest usage, with 11 percent of smartphone users using the technology at least once a week, while Alexa follows at four percent.