What do squashy dinosaurs and Vodafone have in common?

A couple of days ago Yahoo Tech reported on a new Kickstarter campaign from Elemental Path that uses IBM’s Watson to power the latest educational toy, shaped as a dinosaur. And it’s only one such story; last week there was news that kids will soon be able to hold a conversation with a speech-enabled Barbie. These two stories caught my attention because I think it’s illustrative of the fast growing trend towards all things NLI (and eventually AI) and highlights how much our lives are about to change.

It’s impossible to surf the web these days without reading about the latest natural language initiative and it’s increasingly focused on speech. We already talk to mobiles, PCs, cars, smartwatches, TVs, and now apparently, dinosaurs.

Gartner describes natural language as a transformational technology and this viewpoint matches our own. At Artificial Solutions we believe that by 2020 natural language will be as important to your business as a website is today. We’re not expecting everyone to be talking to brightly coloured plastic animals, but we are thinking that you’ll get into your car after a meeting and update internal enterprise systems using just your voice.

History already shows that popular consumer technology fast becomes embedded in the enterprise.
If we’re teaching the youth of today to expect to interact using voice, in less than a decade they’re going to start work at your firm and demand the same. Just as the latest generation of workers has chosen prospective employees by their social media at work policies, so the top tier interns will look at your natural language usage in the future.

But we don’t believe we’ll have to wait a generation before organisations start to face pressure from customers and staff to use natural language. The first step is with the introduction of an intelligent virtual assistant such as Ask Holly at Vodafone Ireland who helps customers with a range of customer questions from call plans to roaming rates, quickly and efficiently.

Very quickly call centre staff realise that it’s easier to ask the digital employee for an answer they’re not sure about, than to wade through internal systems searching for the right answer. This is precisely what happened at Försäkringskassan, the Swedish Social Insurance Agency. The next step is that sales realises that the digital employee is just as capable of offering sales advice as it is support all they need to do is upgrade the knowledge. Enter IKEA’s Anna.

With today’s machine learning technology now being focused on the world of natural language, building intelligent, natural language based solutions isn’t nearly as hard as it used to be. In fact in some cases it’s a simple as adding in the knowledge and supplying a couple of sample questions for the digital employee to have a whole new job description.

Then you come to some of our most exciting enterprise projects at the moment; moving the digital employee from a purely customer serving role to becoming the administration executive you’ve always dreamed about.

There is one small caveat though. We mustn’t forget that natural language conversations are derived from a number of inputs including text. A friend’s 5 year old son has already learnt if he doesn’t know how to spell a word, Google will still help him search using voice. Elemental Path’s dinosaur is purely focused on speech. Perhaps it’s also time to add a spelling test to the entrance exam!

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Andy, who lives with his family in the UK, is Chief Marketing & Strategy Officer at Artificial Solutions. A regular speaker at industry conferences and events, Andy delivers insight on the rise of AI, the challenges businesses face and the future of intelligent conversational applications.

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