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Software will reshape our world in the next decade

As I was wrapping up a Zoom meeting with my business partners, I could hear my son joking with his classmates in his online chemistry class.

I have to say this is a very strange time for me: As much as I love my family, in normal times, we never spend this much time together. But these aren’t normal times.

In normal times, governments, businesses and schools would never agree to shut everything down. In normal times, my doctor wouldn’t agree to see me over video conferencing.

No one would stand outside a grocery store, looking down to make sure they were six feet apart from one another. In times like these, decisions that would normally take years are being made in a matter of hours. In short, the physical world — brick-and-mortar reality— has shut down. The world still functions, but now it is operating inside everyone’s own home.

This not-so-normal time reminds me of 2008, the depths of the financial crisis. I sold my company BEA Systems, which I co-founded, to Oracle for $8.6 billion in cash. This liquidity event was simultaneously the worst and most exhausting time of my career, and the best time of my career, thanks to the many inspiring entrepreneurs I was able to meet.

These were some of the brightest, hardworking, never-take-no-for-an-answer founders, and in this era, many CEOs showed their true colors. That was when Slack, Lyft, Uber, Credit Karma, Twilio, Square, Cloudera and many others got started. All of these companies now have multibillion dollar market caps. And I got to invest and partner with some of them.

Once again, I can’t help but wonder what our world will look like in 10 years. The way we live. The way we learn. The way we consume. The way we will interact with each other.

What will happen 10 years from now?

Welcome to 2030. It’s been more than two decades since the invention of the iPhone, the launch of cloud computing and one decade since the launch of widespread 5G networks. All of the technologies required to change the way we live, work, eat and play are finally here and can be distributed at an unprecedented speed.

The global population is 8.5 billion and everyone owns a smartphone with all of their daily apps running on it. That’s up from around 500 million two decades ago.

Robust internet access and communication platforms have created a new world.

The world’s largest school is a software company — its learning engine uses artificial intelligence to provide personalized learning materials anytime, anywhere, with no physical space necessary. Similar to how Apple upended the music industry with iTunes, all students can now download any information for a super-low price. Tuition fees have dropped significantly: There are no more student debts. Kids can finally focus on learning, not just getting an education. Access to a good education has been equalized.

The world’s largest bank is a software company and all financial transactions are digital. If you want to talk to a banker live, you’ll initiate a text or video conference. On top of that, embedded fintech software now powers all industries.

No more dirty physical money. All money flow is stored, traceable and secured on a blockchain ledger. The financial infrastructure platforms are able to handle customers across all geographies and jurisdictions, all exchanges of value, all types of use-cases (producers, distributors, consumers) and all from the start.

The world’s largest grocery store is a software and robotics company — groceries are delivered whenever and wherever we want as fast as possible. Food is delivered via robot or drones with no human involvement. Customers can track where, when and who is involved in growing and handling my food. Artificial intelligence tells us what we need based on past purchases and our calendars.

The world largest hospital is a software and robotics company — all initial diagnoses are performed via video conferencing. Combined with patient medical records all digitally stored, a doctor in San Francisco and her artificial intelligence assistant can provide personalized prescriptions to her patients in Hong Kong. All surgical procedures are performed by robots, with supervision by a doctor of course, we haven’t gone completely crazy. And even the doctors get to work from home.

Our entire workforce works from home: Don’t forget the main purpose of an office is to support companies’ workers in performing their jobs efficiently. Since 2020, all companies, and especially their CEOs, realized it was more efficient to let their workers work from home. Not only can they save hours of commute time, all companies get to save money on office space and shift resources toward employee benefits. I’m looking back 10 years and saying to myself, “I still remember those days when office space was a thing.”

The world’s largest entertainment company is a software company, and all the content we love is digital. All blockbuster movies are released direct-to-video. We can ask Alexa to deliver popcorn to the house and even watch the film with friends who are far away. If you see something you like in the movie, you can buy it immediately — clothing, objects, whatever you see — and have it delivered right to your house. No more standing in line. No transport time. Reduced pollution. Better planet!

These are just a few industries that have been completely transformed by 2030, but these changes will apply universally to almost anything. We were told software was eating the world.

The saying goes you are what you eat. In 2030, software is the world.

Security and protection no longer just applies to things we can touch and see. What’s valuable for each and every one of us is all stored digitally — our email account, chat history, browsing data and social media accounts. It goes on and on. We don’t need a house alarm, we need a digital alarm.

Even though this crisis makes the near future seem bleak, I am optimistic about the new world and the new companies of tomorrow. I am even more excited about our ability to change as a human race and how this crisis and technology are speeding up the way we live.

This storm shall pass. However the choices we make now will change our lives forever.

My team and I are proud to build and invest in companies that will help shape the new world; new and impactful technologies that are important for many generations to come, companies that matter to humanity, something that we can all tell our grandchildren about.

I am hopeful.

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Shopping via smart speakers is not taking off, report suggests

U.S. consumers aren’t adopting voice-based shopping as quickly as expected, according to a new report today from eMarketer. While consumers have been happy to bring smart speakers into their home, they continue to use them more often for simple commands — like playing music or getting information, for example — not for making purchases. However, the overall number of voice shoppers is growing. It’s just slower than previously forecast, the analysts explain.

By the end of this year, eMarketer estimates that 21.6 million people will have made a purchase using their smart speaker. That’s lower than the Q2 2019 forecast, which expected the number to reach 23.6 million.

Still, it’s important to point out that the overall number of people making purchases via a smart speaker is growing. It will even pass a milestone this year, when 10.8% of all digital buyers in the U.S. will have made a purchase using their smart speaker.

EMarketer attributes the slower-than-anticipated growth to a number of factors, including that security concerns are leading people to not yet fully trust smart speakers and their makers. Many consumers would also prefer a device with a screen so they could preview the items before committing to buy. Apple and Google have addressed the latter by introducing smart home hubs that include screens, speakers and built-in voice assistants. But consumers may have already bought traditional Echo and Google Home devices and don’t feel the need to upgrade.

In addition, the report upped the estimates for percentage of users listening to audio (81.1%) or making inquiries (77.8%).

“Though there are thousands of smart speaker apps that do everything from let you order takeout to find recipes or play games, many consumers don’t realize that they need to take extra and more specific steps to utilize all capabilities,” said eMarketer principal analyst Victoria Petrock. “Instead, they stick with direct commands to play music, ask about the weather or ask questions, because those are basic to the device.”

To be fair, a forecast like this can’t give a complete picture of smart speaker usage. Many consumers do ask Alexa to add items to a shopping list, for instance, which they then go on to buy online at some point — but that wouldn’t be considered voice-based purchasing. Instead, the smart speaker sits as the top of the funnel, capturing a consumer’s intention to buy later, but doesn’t trigger the actual purchase.

That said, Amazon, in particular, has failed to capitalize on the potential for voice shopping, given how easily it can tie a voice command to a purchase from its site. Perhaps it became a little gun-shy from all those mistaken purchases, but the company hasn’t innovated on voice shopping features. There are a number of ways Amazon could make voice shopping a habit or turn one-time purchases into subscriptions, just by way of simple prompts.

Amazon could also develop a set of features, similar to Honey (now owned by PayPal), that allow users track price drops and sales, then alert Echo owners using Alexa’s notifications platform or even an “Amazon companion” skill, that could be added to users’ daily Flash Briefings (e.g. “The item you were watching is now $50 off. The new price is…$X…would you like to buy it?”). The companion could also track out-of-stock items, alert you to new arrivals from a favorite brand, or even send product photos to the Alexa companion app, as suggested deals.

Instead, Alexa voice shopping remains fairly basic. Without improvements, consumers will likely continue to avoid the option.

EMarketer also today adjusted its forecast for overall smart speaker usage. Instead of the 84.5 million U.S. smart speaker users, the 2020 estimate has been dropped to 83.1 million users, indicating slightly slower adoption.

Source: Gadgets – TechCrunch

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Fable Studio founder Edward Saatchi on designing virtual beings

In films, TV shows and books — and even in video games where characters are designed to respond to user behavior — we don’t perceive characters as beings with whom we can establish two-way relationships. But that’s poised to change, at least in some use cases.

Interactive characters — fictional, virtual personas capable of personalized interactions — are defining new territory in entertainment. In my guide to the concept of “virtual beings,” I outlined two categories of these characters:

  • virtual influencers: fictional characters with real-world social media accounts who build and engage with a mass following of fans.
  • virtual companions: AIs oriented toward one-to-one relationships, much like the tech depicted in the films “Her” and “Ex Machina.” They are personalized enough to engage us in entertaining discussions and respond to our behavior (in the physical world or within games) like a human would.

Part 3 of 3: designing virtual companions

In this discussion, Fable CEO Edward Saatchi addresses the technical and artistic dynamics of virtual companions: AIs created to establish one-to-one relationships with consumers. After mobile, Saatchi says he believes such virtual beings will act as the next paradigm for human-computer interaction.

Source: TechCrunch

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Brand Strategies for Conversational Interfaces

At Dashbot, we recently hosted a meetup in NYC to discuss brand strategies in conversational interfaces. As the space continues to mature, more brands are getting involved and moving from experimental to production deployments. We assembled a great group of industry experts to share their thoughts and tips for brands looking to build a chatbot or voice skill.

Our panelists included:

What use cases are brands developing for?

Our panelists see a wide variety of use cases from customer service, productivity tools, and information sharing to entertainment and marketing initiatives.

At IBM, they work with everyone from individual developers to Fortune 20 enterprises. The most common use case, though, is customer care. Large enterprises go to IBM given their ability to handle sensitive data across industry and geographic regulations.

Google works with a similar range of users and enterprises. The use cases for Google Assistant Actions depend on the context — in the home (recipes, home automation), mobile (games, local search), or in the car on the go (communication, messaging).

Reprise Digital, a global marketing agency, tends to work with brands looking to experiment on a new platform, market their products, or provide information and FAQs. Given voice is a new platform, there are some set of brands that want to be first on it. We also see this frequently with innovation teams experimenting in voice. On the text chatbot side, Reprise generally sees brands looking to promote their products or answer FAQs.

Realogy, the real estate holding company for Century21, Coldwell Banker, Sotheby’s, and more, developed its own voice skill, AgentX. Agent X is a productivity skill that enables real estate agents to quickly get information, including their appointments, market research, and listing information — all without the need to open their laptop.

Tips from the experts — what works well for conversational interfaces?

Context is key

A common theme throughout the evening was the importance of context. Where is the user? What are they currently doing? What are they looking for or to do? What are the capabilities of the device?

In addition to the three contexts Alec pointed out earlier (in the home, mobile, and in the car), he recommended also considering when will the user interacts with the chatbot and how the user expects to interact with it. If the user is in the car, they cannot use their hands. If they are at home getting a recipe, having something visual can help. If the user wants to play a game, but is on a device without a screen, perhaps a quiz is better.

Whether the interface is voice enabled or text only is important. As Anamita points out, users talk differently than they type.

Trust can also be an important factor. As IBM works with many global enterprises handling sensitive data, one of the areas Anamita sees is that a user may be more likely to trust interacting on a computer, where identity can be more easily verified, rather than via voice.

Leverage the conversational nature of interfaces

Conversational interfaces are quite a bit different from websites and mobile apps — what works well in those may not work well in a chatbot or voice skill.

At Reprise, Antonio sometimes sees brands who want to port what they currently have on their website or mobile app to a chatbot or voice interface. Whereas the website is all about navigating from one link to the other to vertically drill into what the user is looking for, with conversation, a user should be able to say, or write, what they want and directly get to the information.

Similarly with Realogy, agents are looking for information that is stored in a variety of locations and want to be able to retrieve it quickly and easily. A powerful example of Agent X is when a listing agent is in a presentation with a seller and wants to know the average time on the market or average listing price for a property, they can quickly get the info, without the need to open a laptop and start searching.

As Alec adds, there is a low tolerance amongst users of voice skills. If the skill is not useful, or they do not see the value right away, they will jump to something else. If they see a great use case, they will invest the extra time. It is important not to replicate what you already have on your website or app, but to consider what will add value to the user and what is faster to use.

Keep it simple, provide guidance

Another common theme amongst our panels was to start simple.

As Alec pointed out, with voice, it is especially important to keep interactions simple rather than complex back and forths. For example, placing an order for food delivery from scratch can be rather complex. However, re-ordering a previous delivery is much easier, and better suited to voice. We see the same thing with the food delivery clients we work with. We also learned from our voice survey, that approximately 53% of purchases through voice interfaces is for food delivery.

In general, the process Alec sees developers follow with Google Actions is to first build the foundation and make sure the Action works, next layer in visuals and make it more interactive, and finally delight the user so they come back and re-engage.

Simplicity was also a key goal for Realogy. One of the most popular use cases is just looking up real estate listings. They plan to build new capabilities where it makes sense. They are not just doing voice for voice sake.

To get started, Brian recommends going through the design exercise at https://alexa.design/cdw and to read “ Understand how users invoke custom skills “ to add variety into the interaction model.

In addition to starting simple, it is important to let the user know what the chatbot or voice skill can do. While Alec suggested the initial interaction can intro what the chatbot can do, it should not do that every time. If the user comes back, allow the user to take the next steps. Anamita recommends including a “fallback” Intent to catch cases the chatbot does not handle. If the fallback is triggered, the chatbot could respond, “sorry I cannot do X, but I can do these six things.”

Personality can be important

Depending on the use case of the chatbot or voice skill, personality can be an important factor.

IBM has an “empathy suite” including a tone analyzer and personality insights. When implemented in a customer care chatbot, if a user says they are having a horrible day, the chatbot can understand that and provide a different experience.

As users become more comfortable interacting with chatbots and voice, providing a personality can be quite useful. As Anamita explained, initially chatbots were built for efficiency or to automate a task, but now people are creating relationships with them. Children are growing up with bots that have been anthropomorphized, like the Pepper Robot.

Whether to enable empathy or a personality in a chatbot comes back to context. Anamita sees teaching and therapy use cases as more suited for empathy versus something more transactional. As Brian added, real estate agents range from “Type A” to “Type A,” so they keep personality and cuteness to a minimum. Right now the goal is to be as helpful and productive as possible, but there is room for personality in the future.

At Reprise, copywriters try to come up with a voice for the brand — a name and description of the persona and how they would talk. They use this in all the copy as it is important for the voice of the brand to be the same across the entire experience, whether that is on the Internet or voice device.

In regards to using voice actors on Alexa or Google Home, the panel in general thought they could be beneficial depending on the use case. For example, Antonio pointed out that if a user were interacting with a Jimmy Fallon skill, they would probably be more engaged if it was his voice rather than the default device’s voice.

User acquisition and discovery are challenges

Our panelists generally agree that user acquisition and discovery are challenges.

Education is one of the underlying issues. Some users do not even know third party voice apps exist. As we noted in our earlier voice survey, one of the issues is users tend not to know what voice apps are even called.

Similarly, while Antonio finds users tend to not understand how to invoke the voice apps, improving the invocation can lead to increased acquisition. Associating the invocation name with the brand or something popular can help.

Making use of the “can fulfill” Intents on Alexa or Google Home can lead to increase acquisition too. If a user asks for something that matches a “can fulfill” Intent, the skill may be presented as a possible option to the user.

Discovery can depend on the use case. Anamita finds word-of-mouth tends to work when users are searching for chatbots for need or pleasure. If the use case is more transactional, the enterprise could suggest to the user to try the chatbot instead.

Even internal promotion within a company can be a challenge. At Realogy, there are a lot of competing internal marketing initiatives. What worked for Brian was to incentivize folks with device giveaways. He recommends channeling your internal game show host — “there’s a little Steve Harvey in all of us.”

Alec’s team at Google is working on solutions to improve user acquisition and discovery. They are not only looking to help with generating initial acquisition, but with retention as well to keep users coming back. One of the challenges is users sometimes do not remember how they found a particular voice app and then how to get back to it.

Analytics are essential

Our panelists all agreed analytics are important. As Alec pointed out, you need great analytics to identify what is driving usage and how to improve it.

Realogy uses Dashbot to gain insights into how agents are interacting with Agent X. They wanted to know if agents would know how to interact with the skill and which features were used more than others. Dashbot helped answer those questions. They also found there is a voracious appetite for new capabilities.

Through Dashbot, Reprise has also been able to improve engagement. They learned for one of their client’s Google Actions, that most of the Intents were not being used. It turned out the issue was with all the overly complicated Intents. Based on the analytics, they launched a new version that was much more simplified.

In addition to analytics, Anamita recommends adding a feedback loop directly in the experience. Most of IBM’s internal chatbots include a thumbs up/down prompt asking the user if the chatbot answered the question right or provided the info they needed. At Dashbot, we are able to show these customer satisfaction (CSAT) scores, and the paths leading to them, to help enable improvements in the response effectiveness.

What’s next

We asked our panel if they had any thoughts on the future of the space. There was a great sense of optimism and excitement for the future.

Anamita predicts digital humans becoming more of a reality — having interfaces with human facial reactions.

Brian is looking forward to a generational leap in the device capabilities — what he likens to going from one game console to the next.

Antonio sees users becoming more comfortable with having voice devices in their homes as well as areas for improvement for the space to take off even more. The three main areas are education (knowing how to use the device), discovery (how to find what is needed), and user experience (providing value to users). User experience is the most important to get people to adopt the devices.

Alec envisions a blending of voice apps and chatbots to provide the best experience depending on the context, rather than separate experiences. Voice can be the bridge to jump from the starting point to the finish.

At Dashbot, we are very excited about the future of conversational interfaces. We look forward to seeing what enterprise brands continue to develop.

Watch the full panel

About Dashbot

Dashbot is a conversational analytics platform that enables enterprises and developers to increase user engagement, acquisition, and conversions through actionable insights and tools.

In addition to traditional analytics like engagement and retention, we provide conversation specific metrics including NLP response effectiveness, sentiment analysis, conversational analytics, and the full chat session transcripts.

We also have tools to take action on the data, like our live person take over of chat sessions and push notifications for re-engagement.

We support Alexa, Google Home, Facebook Messenger, Slack, Twitter, Kik, SMS, web chat, and any other conversational interface.

Originally published at https://www.dashbot.io on July 30, 2019.


Brand Strategies for Conversational Interfaces was originally published in Chatbots Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Source: Chatbots Magazine – Medium