Github’s Hubot and the New Breed of Enterprise Intelligent Assistants

The way corporate workers collaborate is changing. Teams are increasingly shifting from email and document-based sharing sites to chat platforms. Popular chat-based solutions such as Slack provide office-workers with a comprehensive set of tools for coordinating tasks and discussions, all from within a familiar messaging platform.

HubotThis shift to chat-based collaboration is giving rise to a whole new species of intelligent assistant: the chatbot. We’re not talking about your “daddy’s” chatbot, like the ones that compete each year for the Loebner Prize. Not that there’s anything wrong with those chatbots! We’re talking instead about a marginally conversational bot that lurks within chat-based collaboration spaces and chimes in if someone asks it something or requests it to take action.

Today Opus Research published my guest post on Hubot, the chatbot assistant that lives and works in Github’s collaboration space. The post is based on a great article by Cade Metz in Wired. Read the full post to find out more about the interesting life and times of Hubot and to speculate about what this recent breed of chatbot means for the future of intelligent assistance.

Trobo Storytelling Robot Toy

Last fall, the team at Skookoo, LLC ran a successful Kickstarter campaign to fund their concept of a storytelling plush toy called Trobo. After a year of work, the company is now shipping the product. Currently there are two plush toy characters named Newton and Curie available for sale. Their stories are designed to foster a love of STEM learning in children aged 2 – 5.

TroboThe Trobo concept consists of an iPad app and the talking plush toy. The iPad app contains an interactive scripted story that the child can follow. As the story progresses, the plush toy converts text to speech to narrate the story and any associated dialog. All of the Trobo stories have science or math themes. One of the first stories describes how bees make honey. The company currently offers about 5 other stories with many more in the works.

The plush toy sells for $69.99 and additional story content currently runs $4.99 for each story. Stories include interactive graphics. Trobo is more of a story narrator than a conversational toy. But Trobo’s speech technology, coupled with the scripted educational apps, is well-suited for the purpose of engaging edutainment.

I wrote about several conversational toys earlier this year and it seems that the trend towards talking toys will continue. Mattel’s controversial Hello Barbie is available on preorder now and set to ship in days. The CogniToys Dino is also available for preorder. As more of these toys ship and get into the hands of children, it will be interesting to observe what children like and perhaps dislike about them. Children the world over have always wished their toys could talk. Now that they can, the challenge is on the toy makers to ensure the toys have something interesting to say.

FinUno Launches Intelligent Financial Assistant

At last week’s Intelligent Assistants Conference, FinUno, Inc. launched fin1, a financial advisor that leverages artificial intelligence. fin1 is a personalized virtual financial assistant that can help  average retail investors better achieve their investment goals.

fin1Rather than market fin1 directly to the retail investor, FinUno partners with financial institutions and they provide the intelligent platform as a benefit to their clients. fin1 is designed to enable financial advisors to better engage with their clients, while offering clients a powerful self-service option that gives them greater insight into and control over their portfolios.

The fin1 solution is built on Openstream’s enterprise virtual assistant platform. Leveraging the Openstream technology provides fin1 with lots of built-in capabilities. One of these features is multimodal engagement, meaning that users can engage with the their Eva financial assistant via text, voice, touch, or gestures. Another feature is a dashboard that can be easily personalized so that the user sees information based on his or her specific specific stock portfolio and trading interests.

The fin1 intelligent assistant provides actionable intelligence based on the client’s portfolio. For example, if Eva provides you with some breaking news about a stock that makes you want to buy it, then you can instruct Eva to initiate the trade. fin1 can also act as a collaboration platform where customers can receive tips and updates from their real (human) financial advisors.

fin1 seems to me to be a good example of a new generation of intelligent advisors. Some  characteristics these smart virtual advisors share include: deep knowledge of a specific domain, personalized info and advice based on knowledge of the customer, and the ability to execute transactions on the customer’s behalf. fin1 is designed to augment the human financial advisor, while providing the retail investor with a knowledgeable financial assistant that is always available.

Intelligent Assistants Conference NYC 2015 – Presentations

In case you missed it, Opus Research has posted content from the Intelligent Assistants Conference presentations.

IACNYCDan Miller’s presentation provides a great introduction to intelligent assistants, the IA Landscape, and how the market is maturing and user expectations are evolving.

Geraldine McBride’s keynote presentation addresses a core dilemma that intelligent assistant’s face. They need to be “hyperpersonal” in order to be truly effective. But people don’t want to lose control of their personal data and they don’t want companies pushing products on them without their consent. McBride proposes solutions to the dilemma.

There are great customer case studies by U.S. Bank, Telefonica, Ticketmaster International, BMW Financial Services that provide examples of how companies are leveraging intelligent assistants to better serve their customers.

Steve Hoover, CEO of PARC, a Xerox Company, gave a really intriguing presentation that took a broad look at what makes a good intelligent assistant. He also showed how artificial intelligence will enable IAs to aid humans in a broad range of scenarios in the near future.

And last but not least, you can see the winners of this year’s Intelligent Assistant Awards and look at the criteria used by the judges the contest.

Now isn’t this better than trying to read those fuzzy slide photos off of your phone or tablet? Enjoy!



Intelligent Assistants Conference 2015 – Key Takeaways

Opus Research’s Intelligent Assistants Conference in New York (#IACNYC) finished up yesterday. As with last year’s conference, this was a great event and I still have a ton of impressions and ideas swirling in my head. But if I grasp for the top takeaways, I come up with two.

IACNYCThe first was articulated by Ticketmasters’ Phil Jennings, vice president of Contact Centres. To paraphrase Jennings: “Businesses are under increasing pressure to service customers digitally.”

My second takeaway comes from Andy Mauro, senior director, Cognitive Innovations Group, Nuance Communications. To quote Andy: “Intelligent assistants are the delivery vehicle for artificial intelligence.”

Let’s look at the statement from Jennings. At the 1st Intelligent Assistants Conference, my takeaway was that companies were “already” using IAs to reap significant business benefits. In just a year, the situation has changed. Companies are now compelled to offer effective self-service options to their customers. It’s no longer just about call deflection. If customers need help and can’t find a quick, intuitive self-service option on the channel of their choosing, they are likely to abandon and perhaps go to a competitor. As Paul Smith of Codebaby said during his panel session, abandonment is the new option.

Self-service solutions, including intelligent assistants, don’t have to be perfect. Most of the company representatives that presented their case studies made it clear that their solutions continued to be works in progress. They proactively analyze results and make improvements; it’s an ongoing journey. But every case study made it clear that providing customers with 24/7 access to information, on all their preferred digital channels, is now mandatory.

The second takeaway is that the role and scope of intelligent assistants has dramatically expanded; but at the same time, it’s also narrowed. What does that mean? Well, on the one hand, technologies such as machine learning and IoT are providing incredible opportunities for automating and improving our lives. Intelligent assistants can proactively control the temperature of our homes, help us craft a more effective email, and automatically switch us to a cheaper utility provider. These are only a few examples of how IAs are now more than narrowly-focused customer self-service agents.

But is that what IAs are? Or are they the natural, intuitive gateway connecting us to those capabilities? Mauro says that IAs are the delivery vehicles for are the capabilities that artificial intelligence provides. To me, that means that those of us focused on intelligent assistants can concentrate on the core features of IA technologies. Those core features include conversational abilities, avatars, empathy tracking, and the underlying capabilities outlined in Opus’s recent Intelligent Assistants Landscape.

This narrowing of scope takes some of the pressure off and helps define our areas of research. The need for intelligent assistants is accelerating just as rapidly as the technological advances. It’s an exciting time to be in the industry.

Opus Research’s Intelligent Assistants Conference NYC Starts Today

The Intelligent Assistants conference NYC (#IACNYC), hosted by Opus Research, begins this afternoon at the W Hotel New York. This is the second conference hosted by Opus that is devoted entirely to exploring the business uses cases and cutting edge technologies comprising what Dan Miller of Opus calls “intelligent assistance.” The conference got off to a great start yesterday evening thanks to a rooftop networking event sponsored by Agentbot.

IACNYCWhat I especially enjoy about the format of this conference is the mix of customer case studies and panel discussions with industry luminaries. It’s extremely helpful and interesting to hear from customers about how they’ve implemented intelligent assistants and how they measure the value they gain from these solutions. You can always learn something from people who are using a product to generate real customer value.

At the same time, it’s great the hear from industry insiders about trends and predictions for the future of the space. Opus does a great job at assembling key players from the industry and making them feel comfortable enough to open up and share remarkable insights. The conference also offers an opportunity to stop by a small gathering of intelligent assistant providers and talk to them one-on-one about their capabilities and solutions.

Later this afternoon, Opus will announce the winners of this year’s Intelligent Assistant Awards (IAA). The judges will talk about the criteria they applied this year for scoring the entrants.

IACNYC is shaping up to be a great event. Check back here after the conference for a wrap up of some of the top takeaways.

Intelligent Assistant Landscape

Dan Miller, Opus Research Lead Analyst & Founder, published an article this week in Venture Beat on the broad intelligent assistant environment. Miller included a graphical “Intelligent Assistant Landscape” that provides context for both the underlying technologies as well as the solution categories of intelligent assistance.

Voice Enable.jpgMiller identifies the key technological underpinnings for intelligent assistants as NLP, machine learning, and semantic search, as well as speech and conversational analytics. He also cites the foundational nature of conversational technologies such as speech processing, text and chatbots, avatars, and face and gesture recognition.

Several major categories of solutions leverage these foundational technologies. Each grouping addresses the needs of different users and varying use cases. Miller identifies the primary categories of intelligent assistance as:

  • Mobile and personal assistants
  • Personal advisors
  • Virtual agents and customer assistants
  • Employee assistants

Opus Research projects that the market for customer-facing virtual agents  / customer assistants will grow from generating $200 million in revenue in 2014 to bringing in over $1 billion annually by 2020. Miller projects that within the next three years, the primary method for customers to seek support in the digital realm will be through intelligent assistants.

Read the full article for details on how the intelligent assistant market is growing, who the key players are, and to see which areas are attracting the bulk of the investment dollars. Opus Research hosts the Intelligent Assistants Conference 2015 next week in NYC.