Tag Archives: smart assistants

⚰️⚰️2018 – the death of the chatbot?

This week the focus is on chatbots and smart assistants. 2017 saw the rise of the chatbots but January has only just begun and we are seeing the first mutterings of their fall.

Will 2018 see the fall of the chatbot?

Goodbye Facebook M

Last year, Facebook were rumoured to be switching focus with its Facebook M platform, which allowed approximately 10,000 people in San Francisco access to a personal assistant powered by ’M’.

You could ask it to order flowers, a taxi, book restaurants etc. but the technology proved a step too far and in the end the result seems to be a suggestions feature added to Facebook Messenger.

Facebook rarely managed to get more than 30% of requests automated, which is problematic if you want to scale to even the entire userbase of North America, let alone the world.

By far the majority required human intervention and clearly it didn’t look like that was going to improve anytime soon.

The use of people alongside the machine was positioned as a way to accelerate past the efforts of Google Assistant and Amazon’s Alexa, who had a significant head start. In the end the general purpose approach of the assistant proved to be its downfall.

It highlights how far away technology is today from truly understanding us, despite what you read in the press.

It was also text based rather than the voice activated approach of Amazon and Google’s offerings. It feels much more natural to ask an assistant questions rather than open an app and type in requests. I’d rather just go to the Uber app and press a few buttons. That may just be my preference though as I don’t live inside my mobile messaging apps.

Regardless, Facebook M is no more whilst Alexa and Google Assistant go from strength to strength. For now, the general purpose chatbox is put out to pasture, whilst smart assistants rule the day.

Chatbots vs Smart Assistants?

At first glance, other than the voice capability of smart assistants, they look pretty much the same.

They are different. Very different in my eyes.

The smart assistant is a new interface to technology in the same way the mouse transformed computer interfaces and the app changed the mobile experience.

Chatbots are a layer built on top of the app or web interface, whilst the smart assistant is a revolution in the way we quickly retrieve/process information.

That is not to say smart assistants will completely replace the mouse or the mobile app, but some types of apps will surely disappear.

So if smart assistants are the future and not chatbots, is this the end of the chatbot?

The end of the chatbot?

No. Despite the huge sales of smart assistants we are still far away from them being ubiquitous. The app interface and the web are going to be the major way we interact with companies for many years to come.

They also reduce the load on call centres, which saves companies money and is I suspect one of the primary motivators behind adoption.

Gartner thinks that by 2020, chatbots will be handling nearly 85% of customer queries – that would lead to a significant cost saving overall and the decimation of the call centre industry.

Regardless, the foundations of the technology behind the chatbot is not far from the technology required to integrate into smart assistants so the investment is likely to be positive into the future also.

Even better, it gives companies benefits today. People are increasingly savvy about using messaging apps and, unsurprisingly, would prefer to get answers to their queries quickly without hanging around on hold to companies.

Chatbots can deliver on this promise – when they are implemented well.

Many feel like a text reinvention of a company’s telephone routing systems or The old Microsoft assistant, Clippy rather than using any form of artificial intelligence but that I suspect will change in 2018.

Chatbots that aim to solve specific tasks rather than trying to solve everything will succeed. This sets expectations up front and improves the overall experience.

One of my favourite chatbots is by Duolingo, which teaches you how to speak in different languages through a conversation.

When it comes to business to business marketing, chatbots can also level up the experience, providing the information that the specific individual requires rather than generic content written to appeal to everyone (and nobody).

This more natural interaction could also mean the death of the form – though we are still a long way away from that and results in building better relationships – making chatbots a natural fit for an account based marketing strategy as well.

🤖Smart assistants enter the workplace and Google restructuring.🏢

This week sees Amazon take Alexa into the workplace. There may be opportunity but is it the right time? I also look at Google and how its responding.

Home is where the tech is.

How we interact with technology is also changing. For just over a decade now, the mainstream audience has been interfacing with technology beyond their fingertips thanks to the launch of the Nintendo Wii and Microsoft’s Kinect.

In the past these technologies would have built its foundations in the workplace before moving to the home. But today, the home is often where more advanced technology lives rather than the workplace. This, in turn, has led to a rise in people using your own devices in the workplace.

Smart assistants have also started from the home but Alexa, Amazon’s smart assistant is not exactly portable and whilst it has taken off in the home in a relatively short period of time, usage in the workplace has been limited.

There is no doubt all the major players competing in this space see its potential to completely change again how we interface with technology. Alexa stops you being glued to a screen and instead has you asking a question out loud.

It feels more natural.

All this competition stokes innovation and Amazon clearly sees an opportunity to stake its claim on the workplace, this week announcing Alexa for Business.

They have announced connections into email (Exchange/Outlook), CRM (Salesforce) and HR (Concur).

This is the first baby steps and they need to figure out how to deal better with much more ambient noise in today’s open plan offices.

Even at home, Alexa struggles to hear when there are other noises present.

The bigger issue is the device itself. With powerful computers already present, what is the need for an Alexa box on every desk?

Amazon need to release PC and Mac versions to really make headway otherwise I can see it being limited to meeting rooms, where you can ask it to contact somebody, turn on/off the lights, project a laptop screen or possibly save a note.

With the exception of projecting a laptop screen, which is still more fiddly than it should be, the rest is hardly compelling. Oh and Alexa can’t actually do that just yet anyhow.

More useful, would be to be able to answer questions about projects underway in meetings, which will come as more integrations are built.

But I think the real power will be at your desk to analyse data or get small tasks done quickly. Assuming, the ambient noise issue can be resolved.

I guess Amazon needs to release some airpods ?.

African elephant (Loxodonta africana), silhouetted, Zambezi River area, Zambia.

On the desktop, Siri and Cortana should really be ahead. But apart from having a huge existing user base due to being pre-installed on Windows and MacOS, in reality their capabilities are poor today. Under investment and poor usability so far and little noise to suggest that is going to change anytime soon.

The elephant in the room is Google. If they integrated Google Assistant into the browser, that would make quick headway into the workplace. They have lagged behind Amazon when it comes to partnerships, which is going to be critical to success.

First they are getting their house in order. Google is restructuring its hardware back under one roof.

A few years ago it decided to keep Nest, which makes smart home devices as a separate business but has now changed its mind.

Given the overlap between the two divisions this is hardly surprising. In addition to creating efficiencies it should also allow it to better compete with Alexa.

I’d expect to see Nest devices with built in Google Assistant at some point soon, giving them another way into the home. Nest has been slow in updating its hardware in recent years so soon may be a little longer than they would hope.

Time will tell. Meanwhile, the competition is not sitting still.