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

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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.

I read all my email at rand@exoscalr.com and I’m also at +1-650-529-4181 and+1-646-480-0205. Feel free to reach out.

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Living in a Post-Geographical World: Address is Approximate (Hat Tip to Steve Jobs)

My family has been travelling since the 1670’s when two Du Toit brothers left France as part of the great French Huguenot movement. They went to Holland, which had recently begun colonising the tip of Africa. Recognising opportunity, they led a movement of settlers and arrived in Cape Town in 1676. The result was a wonderfully rich cultural mix (and some great wines) in the Franschoek region of the western cape of South Africa.

Fast forward a few hundred years and we dispersed to the UK and Australia when crime became all too pervasive. I’ve since also lived in the United States, and regard Sydney and Palo Alto as the closest things to home.

Like many others who have had similar experiences I consider myself post-geographical. It’s not where I am physically that matters, but what my mindset is, who I am interacting with and what I am aiming to achieve.

That’s why this video by Tom Jenkins resonates so much with me.

I love the vision he portrays and his message also talks to what Steve Jobs said many years ago in an interview, namely that the world we live in is made up of man-made constructs and constraints. That the people who created them are no smarter than you are and once you realise this you need never be constrained by them – create your own world, wherever you are!

Address Is Approximate from The Theory on Vimeo.

Elevator Pitches: Rule 1, Don’t Hang Your Pet By Its Tail, Even On TechCrunch!

TechCrunch has set up a community video project called Elevator Pitches. Limited to 60 seconds these pitches are voted up or down by the community.

It looks like a fun way to get entrepreneurs to hone their pitching skills and get some coverage. Below is the video from Ugobe‘s CEO, Bob Christopher – it’s an interesting take on the whole elevator pitch by a company with a great product and by the sounds of it, great vision.

But Bob – holding the Pleo by the tail until it squeals breaks the first rule of pitching — keep the focus on your venture and its value proposition…

Robots: Life-Size versus Life-Like

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I  showed my 10 & 11 year old sons the Today show clip of Ross Dawson stroking his Pleo and thought this is my answer to their continuous requests for a pet. They were both instantly besotted with this ultra cute, life-like baby dinosaur. Compared to the plastic coldness of the Sony Aibo, the Pleo exudes cuddliness. Out of the box, its big blue eyes form an emotional tie in a nanosecond.

But what I hadn’t factored in was my 10 year old’s deep connection with anything and everything Star Wars-related. He took one look at the life-size reproduction of C-3PO and was instantly torn: life-size versus life-like.

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The human connection will win out in the end. A cold-hearted fibreglass replica is neat, but it has no chance against a cute pet… that doesn’t need toilet training.