The Future of Bots

Today’s tech companies all agree that AI, bots and voice are the next big things. In today’s day and age, all we have to be able to interact with machines are keyboards, and they have reached their limits. What’s the next step? Conversation. But making a machine understand us and respond in natural language is a challenge that has yet to be solved.

The idea is to solve what Elon Musk sees as human’s fundamental input/output limitations. He said our hand input, say thumbs on a virtual iPhone keyboard, is incredibly slow. On the input side, we’re a lot better because we have a high-bandwidth visual interface. Today’s solutions remain very technical and too conceptual for people to truly comprehend and implement in their lives.

Zuckerberg envisages his AI ambition as follows: ‘I’ll start with the technology that we already have and then I’ll teach it to recognize my voice to operate everything in the house. Music, lights, temperature and so on. I’ll teach the technology to let my friends in by identifying their faces when they ring the bell. And I’ll also teach the technology to warn me when something is the matter in the bedroom of my daughter Max.’ In reply to the tens of thousands of reactions to his message, Zuckerberg writes that he has already found one product that he is taken with: ‘In the field of music, Amazon Echo is pretty good. It’s simple to control music with my voice while both my hands are busy tending to Max.’

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Bots are a preoccupation in tech because they’re exploring artificial intelligence (AI) at scale. AI comes in two broad flavors: strong/general or weak/specific. The former is recursive and can contend with a wide set of questions with open-ended answers. The latter, on the other hand, responds to narrow sets of questions with scripted answers. We don’t have strong AI yet, but the current generation of bots is a good example of weak AI.

“In the new workforce of 2030, the most successful organizations will optimize the usage of all their resources, both human and machine, for competitive advantage. An increasing portion of your workforce will not be human,” Mr. Prentice said. “However, while machines are very good for consistency, performance, predictability, efficiency and safety; they can’t match humans’ skills in ingenuity, novelty, art, creativity, emotion, and to address variability and provide context.” – Gartner Summary of the top news from Gartner Symposium.

Today’s bots are often a combination of algorithms and/or human turks. Google Now and Siri are the former, while on-demand delivery services like Magic in the United States and Fetch in the United Kingdom are the latter. Facebook’s virtual assistant M, on the other hand, is a hybrid.

Given the limitations of specific AI, we need both context and precision. Brand engagements are an interesting way to provide both because they are industry, product or service specific. For example, you can trust that someone won’t ask a banking bot a question about football. And methods such as onboarding and prompts can help people further understand what they can ask each bot. Niche domain expertise – such as bots for mortgages or asset management – are another way to focus a conversation and avoid awkward failures.

The concern that some people have with bots is the risk of a tedious backand-forth. No one wants an interactive voice response system in their pocket.

Chatbots VC landscape

To reduce such risk, many bot experiences are complementing text with cards and micro-apps. Both are ways to deliver thin, but robust, interactions inside of chats. “Show flights” within Google Now or ordering an Uber in Slack are both great examples.

At the end of the day, it is all sorts of virtual assistants that implement the ultimate customer experience, because they communicate with us in a natural manner and are aware of our deepest desires. Machine Intelligence plays a major role in this transition. We need Machine Intelligence to aggregate all our personal data, to filter and analyze them and eventually to transform them into an action or transaction. Albert Wenger, a partner with venture capital investor Juneon Square Ventures (USV), goes one step further. In his TEDx Talk: ‘A BIG idea, a bot idea’, he refers to the ‘right’ to have yourself be represented by a bot. These digital alter egos carry out work on behalf of their physical counterparts, based on personal data, and earn an income with which their owners of flesh and blood are able to support themselves. But to realize this, some steps will need to be taken first.

If software is eating the world, then it’s clear that messaging is eating software. Or to paraphrase another venture capitalist, Benedict Evans, “It used to be that all software expands until it includes messaging. Now all messaging expands until it includes software.”

The rise of chat gives entrepreneurs the unparalleled opportunity to align what their brands do with what they say. China, which was once known as the land of cheap rip-offs, may now be offering us a glimpse of the future. Facebook messenger is going to take over the world as WeChat did in China, according to the New York times. The right chat strategy, when executed well, will merge a brand’s persona with consumer expectations to create a seamless, intuitive experience. Whether that means adding chat functions to proprietary apps or creating branded bots on big platforms, organizations can now have more personalized conversations with their customers.

Addenda

I’ll be at Silicon Beach Fest next week. Come say Hi! Btw you need a bot too. Give me 15 minutes or few emails if I can’t convince you, no one can!  Email me at haseeb.tariq@gmail.com to continue the conversation or try chatting with my bot.

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