A Fiercer Future: What Comes After A!? Let’s talk about chatbots and the Bot Engine

character

 

A few days ago I published the following piece on chatbots in my regular newsletter. I had no inside knowledge of what Facebook was planning, so I’m very excited to see real life imitating future gazing a lot quicker than I anticipated. At their F8 conference Facebook has announced they are commoditising chatbots with the release of the Bot Engine which relies on machine learning to create a variable conversation.

The last time I got this excited was when Facebook followed my lead at their F8 conference in 2007 and essentially kickstarted the app economy. Will this move on their part now help push us beyond basic AI? EXOscalr Labs is interested in talking to others who see the opportunity to build on this initiative. Be fierce, act now!

Here is the newsletter I sent out:

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There is a major shift in focus from using apps for everything to interacting with virtual assistants. The issue though is that these AI-driven chatbots have zero personality and for the most part are purely functional. How can they be spruced-up and imbued with character, style and quirks? After all, if they are going to replace many of our day to day conversations we want them to sufficiently suspend reality so that we view them as more human-like than machine and so we derive some meaning beyond function from interacting with them.

Let’s use television as an analogy. At one point we watched whatever banal programming the television channels broadcast. But as this technology commoditised and we were freed up to choose what we watched a major shift took place. Quality content was in more demand. We moved over to pay TV and then Netflix, because they entertained us more with compelling content.

The same thing has happened in many areas of our lives – Spotify replaced radio, great novels replaced penny books.

I see a similar shift taking place in the area of virtual assistants. Would you rather chat with Siri or with a virtual assistant named Jerry who has all of Jerry Seinfeld’s character traits? Wouldn’t you prefer to be health-coached by your favorite athlete?

Australian company Complexica has developed Larry, the Digital Analyst, and he acts as a digital expert with the promise to improve topline growth, expand margins, build stronger customer relationships. But does Larry have character? Do customers actually want to interact with him or are they forced to?

There is an article in the Washington Post titled, The next hot job in Silicon Valley is for poets.  It talks about the growing demand for writers and other narrative-generating talent who can engineer a backstory for a virtual assistant.

As I see it, over the next 3-5 years the base virtual assistant + AI platform will commoditise to the point where it won’t matter which one you choose – IBM, Microsoft, Apple or an open source platform. What will matter more is how well you weave together a compelling story for your virtual assistants.

And this is where I see a new form of organization entering the market – a content developer rather than a technology developer. This organization will build a portfolio of compelling characters for its own functional arenas or license out these characters to companies.

This is an opportunity to skate to where the puck will be, not where it is.

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At EXOscalr we work with our clients to grow their wisdom practice, unleash their absolute potential and make a difference. We draw on decades of experience, including insights gained in venture capital, corporate innovation, building high growth organizations and advising the Fortune 1000 on transformation.

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The Intention Web: Social Business Designed

Jeremiah Owyang from the Altimeter Group explains the Intention Web as being about information that provides explicit predictions of who will do what next, although it’s not happened yet.

From his perspective, this forward-looking or anticipation network will provide three unique opportunities:

1.People can now use their social relationships that have similar goals or events on a calendar and improve their experience

2. They can also identify who in their social circles are most likely going where, increasing their knowledge of top events

3. This provides businesses with the ability to listen to provide highly contextualized offerings and experiences for those explicitly stating their intents.

As enterprise increasingly integrates social business design principles, I expect them to formulate strategies for tapping into the growing intention network. These strategies will include ways to identify true intent, reward those who broadcast their intent and generally make  this data actionable.

Jeremiah has provided a list of intention enabled sites including:

*  43 Things, a wish list; and

* Plancast, which allows users to publish their future plans.

I want to talk about another intention enabled site called Sponty.  Boston based, the company uses the tagline ‘be hangoutable’ and bills itself as allowing users to create and discover social activity feeds around them. Users create topical feeds that tell others about fun things happening around town, like indie music and hipster parties.

According to co-founder, Mahmoud Arram, Sponty’s premise is that while location is important, the type of the activity and which of your friends are going is the determining factor whether to go to something. Sponty let’s people broadcast their social intentions so that their friends can join them.

He believes the power is in user created topical event feeds. People may be able to tweet events, but tweets are not actionable; in the sense that you cannot click “I’m down” on a tweet to let the organizer/friend know that you’re going and see who else is going.

Mahmoud sees Sponty as being laser focused on events. “Think of it as real-time intentions, rather than real-time statuses”.

He agrees that game mechanics is an essential element and they are exploring ways to build an incentive system for people to share and contribute their topical event feeds. Currently, the top users feel rewarded when they help people go out and discover an event they probably would not have known about otherwise.

Using Twitter as an analogy and stepping back in time 12 to 18 months, it is not hard to see the power within the intention web. Especially for businesses who are able to tap into what will be a growing arena in 2010.