Voices of the Future

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Why voice user interfaces will become the key to interaction with technology.

It is difficult to underestimate the messengers and social media influence on the interaction with modern smartphones. At the same time, text input holds leading positions, being the primary way of communication on multiple platforms.

Modern chatbots interacting with users’ correspondence take on the role of personal assistants and consultants, helpers at work and more. The tasks solved by chatbots in the course of their evolution have changed alongside with them.

Voices of the past

The first chatbot called ELIZA used to paraphrase utterances, imitating the psychotherapist’s speech. Its counterpart bot called Parry was created in 1972 and performed the opposite task — imitated the patient’s speech. The bots moved from the entertainment function to first attempts to process the user’s natural speech. The A.L.I.C.E. (Artificial Linguistic Internet Computer Entity) chatbot, created in 1995, processed user’s speech according to templates, selecting the relevant answer.

When social media and messengers appeared, bots moved there — AIM and MSN users could communicate with Smarterchild chatbot. In 2006, the IBM Corporation started developing the Watson system. This supercomputer featured a question-answer system and the ability to learn in the process of communication. Ten years later, the updated Watson system for Cyber ​​Security was able to help people deal with information security. This system included a chatbot and a voice assistant, both capable of answering questions in a natural language.

In 2016, the self-learning bot called Tay created by Microsoft became famous due to a scandal — it had to adopt teenagers’ manner of communication, but just within 16 hours, it began to show signs of a racist who hates the entire world.

At the same time, voice bots are able to listen and talk to a user and act as a “younger brother” in spite of significant efforts to promote them. Voice assistants like Alexa, Google Now, Cortana, Siri, Viv, and Bixby have become a steady attribute of both smartphones and a separate industry of voice-controlled “smart speakers” used at home.

Large corporations share their best practices in the area of speech and natural language recognition, striving to make them widely available and, therefore, ubiquitous. A convenient mechanism designed to interact with digital technology and company services is crucial for the leaders in this area (IBM, Nuance, Apple, Amazon, Google, and Microsoft).

Voice assistants’ development can hardly be called an easy process. If the answer is more than three seconds delayed (including question recognition and answer generation), the conversation is no longer comfortable. The Amazon Company has been working for five years to reduce the response time, and their voice assistant Alexa has learned to respond in just one and a half seconds. The possibility to talk to a device using no screen and without unnecessary pauses as if it were a person proved to be a critically necessary feature for a successful interaction experience.

Voices of the present

According to the Accenture Technology Vision inquiry in 2017, out of more than 5,400 IT managers and businessmen, 79% agree that the introduction of artificial intelligence mechanisms will help accelerate modern technology implementation in their companies. Experience improvement and successful results of interaction with customers hinge on innovations in the user interface.

If we improve the people’s interaction with technology, simplifying and expanding the interface, it will be much easier to introduce new technologies and ensure better results. Intelligent digital assistants not only monitor existing business processes, taking into account their previous experiences, but also learn how to offer solutions to new tasks through interaction with users.

Let’s come back to companies relying on voice user interfaces. What do they use them for at the moment? According to their purposes, voice assistants can be roughly divided into three large categories. The first group includes assistants which are managers providing tips based on their previous interaction experience. This may be music selection based on previously played tracks, tips to choose products from related categories, and advice based on the user’s geolocation.

Another group includes “advisors”. Analyzing external and internal data, they take on the role of intermediaries, processing versatile information. Google Now tries to pre-estimate what information is relevant for you while searching, and Rhizabot is able to analyze business data while listening to common questions and generating specialized search queries in various databases.

And finally, the most advanced group includes bots capable of cooperating with other services and data delivery channels. In retail services, the Alexa bot from Amazon already shows good results, increasing the company’s profits and improving the user experience.

Google reports more than 10% growth of global voice search inquiries in 2015 from almost “statistical zero”. The Bing Company calculated that Windows 10 users utilize voice search in 25% of cases, and on Android mobile devices, this index equals 20%. Researchers at Stanford University believe that modern voice recognition technology now allows searching three times faster than typing a query on a mobile device.

Simultaneous accessibility of implementation mechanisms, as well as the openness of best practices dealing with a deep learning of neural networks and BigData, is the prerequisite for voice requests future growth and the increasing complexity of tasks which voice assistants will be able to solve. This involves such bellwethers as Salesforce Einstein, Microsoft Azure Cognitive Services, Google Cloud Platform, IBM Watson, and many others.

Voices of the future

What challenges do modern companies face in this connection? It’s time to consider intelligent chatbot assistants which operate using AI not just as an exclusively technological tool but to provide them with priority and investments corresponding to the function they are going to perform within the companies — the brand identity.

Just trace the dynamics: in 2015, in such a conservative area as the motor-vehicle industry, 8% of all vehicles were equipped with both voice-controlled systems and various intelligent assistants. According to Gartner forecasts, technology penetration will reach 109% by 2025 — i.e. several competing systems could be installed in one vehicle, and those systems will listen and interact with both drivers and other cars.

Voice bots are just trying to see how the land lies so far. However, in the bonds like Apple-Siri, Amazon-Alexa, or even Google-Google Now, there is every chance for assistants to become the main, if not the only, point of interaction between consumers and the brand itself. Cumulating all their experiences while interacting with customers, voice bots will become a true brand’s identity, using their possibilities to individually adapt to every single customer. According to some estimates, the US companies suffer 1.6 trillion dollars losses each year due to insufficient communication quality with their customers.

Not just large corporations work on improving and automating marketing activities with customers. The BRN.ai Company is developing a cloud platform, which allows companies to receive and process data from a variety of chatbots in popular messaging services already today. Real-time communication through various channels allows assessing advantages of this approach, providing users with lots of additional functions.

The transformation of the very way to interact with customers lies ahead: starting with simple transaction models to multidimensional goals, covering a variety of channels. The combination of interfaces and communication styles is also on the way: text chat rooms, voice bots, gesture recognition or even virtual reality. These processes contribute to longer relationships and better customer service, directly affecting the business cost.

Surveys indicate a 98% chance that a good user buying experience will be the reason for customers to make the next order in the same place. Voice interfaces do not require customers to understand complex technologies to use them: they can simply talk, use gestures, or even touch intelligent bots. Instead of making interfaces more complex, it is worth getting rid of them completely. There are examples of such solutions everywhere: you yourself do not have to check traffic congestion of the entire route, using different services; you will just receive a voice prompt to your smartphone from Google. Barely perceptible, but user-friendly and useful voice solutions cease to be understood as separate — they are becoming part of the expected user experience while using a smartphone.

According to Accenture’s research forecast, in as little as 5 years time, half of the customers will prefer services with AI functions (intelligent chatbots) when contacting brands instead of traditional ways. In seven years, most of the existing interfaces using the screen and text input methods will be replaced with their counterparts using voice, gesture, and other navigation methods. Moreover, in ten years time, digital assistants will become so widespread that the 24/7/365 support will be an absolute norm for both employees and customers.

What issues in connection with voice assistants are to be solved to implement these forecasts? The chatbot Tay story, when it “had been driven crazy” by the modern Internet in spite of all the Microsoft efforts, proves — before entrusting bots with full access to our financial assets, businesses, and housekeeping, we will have to solve not only security issues but also issues of trust.

Using blockchain technology to store reliable information about the priorities and objectives set for chatbots, we will provide them with wide powers but retain full control due to smart contracts. The dawning of the age of intelligent chatbots will cause a radical change in a mass consumer behavior. The number of Google queries made by users will decrease, and the modern trade market will also change due to B2B (interaction between intelligent bots) networks development.

Instead of using a proprietary assistant bot linked to a single platform (like Alexa working with the Amazon Marketplace), aggregate bots will be capable of finding and executing transactions on various platforms, automatically analyzing the price, product specifications, and advising options. Even today, chatbots are able to offer the user solutions to their issue, choosing the most optimum alternative among all available platforms. Integrating with AI market majors, the independent aggregator BRN.ai is able to provide the best solution out of the available ones without limiting the user’s choice.

Modern marketplaces success and relevance prove that such bots will be in demand, gaining an advantage over their modern counterparts because of their intuitiveness, security, and a certain degree of autonomy. Alexa is not the only example. During the Viv voice assistant presentation, it solved the objective stated in a natural language, “I want a pizza from Pizz’a Chicago near the office.” Viv managed to carry it out, and 40 minutes later, the pizza was delivered to the assembly hall where the presentation was taking place. However, in spite of the thunderous ovation in the hall, the delivery man was expecting the due payment as well.

In future, voice chatbots together with blockchain and machine learning technologies, possessing access to a payment system, will solve this objective even in a smarter way. You will just order a pizza and get it while a chatbot itself will choose Pizz’a Chicago and a payment method. All large companies fully comprehend this situation, but it is not worth waiting until people’s buying behavior changes once and for all.

If your company wants to survive, it is necessary to act right now! Create and launch your own intelligent chatbot right away, and then test it, discuss, and improve it along with your users. This is the only way to beat your competitors and maximize your profit in the future.

Alex Galert CEO BRAIN (brn.ai)

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