Conversational AI: Making Technology More Human
All of us from time to time suffer from technology rage. Every so often, we’ll come up against an incomprehensible flow of logic: a Gordian Knot of process design that stops us in our tracks. Even the best-designed digital services can drive us to despair as we navigate drop down menus, "buttons" and automated phone systems.
The cause is simple: we’re having to communicate with technology on its terms. Think about it: If you want to use a smartphone banking app you first must learn the "language" of the smartphone (i.e. how you use it) and the "dialect" of the app itself. It’s us humans that do the heavy lifting to get what we want from digital technology.
Humans have evolved to interact with other intelligent systems (a category which, for millennia, has basically been limited to other humans) through conversation. When we talk to people we expect an organic, contextual give-and-take; and we're used to dropping off conversations one week and picking them up again a few weeks later. It’s only natural that we’d want to interact with digital technologies—the new intelligent systems—in the same way.
The key question that many are beginning to ask is: Why should people learn to use technology interfaces when we can simply make the technology more human? A human-first approach would be built around natural conversation: We would do away with the keyboards and touchscreens that currently intermediate our interactions and, instead, simply talk to digital technology as we would to a human.
The future is conversational
Nascent conversational interfaces already exist. Devices such as Amazon Alexa and Google Home use technologies such as applied machine learning and natural language processing to enable a voice interface. But this is just the start. Sales of Amazon Echo in its first year were comparable to that of the first iPhone, and I believe the technology will prove even more transformational. The possibilities are endless: Any single interface with digital devices that you can think of can either be replaced or augmented with AI-enabled conversational interfaces. It will change the nature of business.
It’s hard to overstate the implications of this for enterprises. Conversational technology will be empathetic by nature and able to use real-time data analysis to create the sort of context-aware, memory-based conversations we have with each other. That means your customers can be treated on a completely individual basis by a machine that draws on reams of data to enrich the experience. From providing simple facts to answering questions and imparting knowledge, conversational AIs will be able to do everything a human customer service agent can, but faster and with immediate access to much more information.
A light-hearted real-life example of how conversational services will impact every aspect of life in the future is Accenture’s development of Swiggy, the Virtual Bartender. The bot has been created to whip up a range of your favourite cocktails at your command and serves you a splash of small talk while you wait. The Tech leverages a Google framework to deliver an innovative refreshment experience and can be sampled at Wired Live 2017. You can ask her to make you a drink, ask for her recommendations, ask her about Accenture and much more, like you would interact with a human bartender.
While we’re still in the early days of conversational AI, this field will evolve quickly. Start-ups today will likely hit the ground running. Unencumbered by legacy technology, it’s hard to see why a new business wouldn’t exploit commoditised technology and cloud-based AI services to develop conversational interfaces from the outset.
For incumbent enterprises change will be slower, but it’s vital you get it underway. If you don’t, you risk having to play catch-up with competitors in a couple of years’ time. A good starting place is to look at your business and map out where conversational AI could most easily be applied. From there, apply some design thinking to plan what a conversational experience could look like. Start building and testing experiences on a small scale. Pick an area where you have a lot of data (customer service FAQs, for example), and plug the data into a chatbot. Over time, expand its remit and provide access to richer data sources. The idea is to start small, learn from mistakes and scale over time.
The evolution of conversational interfaces will change the world around us. Digital technology will finally become truly intuitive, helping to address digital exclusion while providing a new way for brands to build relationships with their customers. There’s no time to waste: You must start preparing for what will be a completely new way of doing business.
See for yourself
If you would like to see other ways in which AI is helping to make technology more people-focused, then please join us at Wired Live 2017. We’ll be demoing "Swiggy", who’s use case embodies Accenture’s dedication to a design thinking mentality, AI as the new UI and a culture driven by automation.