Social Robots: New Publication on Medium

Last week I was at SpeechTek 2016 and I participated on a panel about the social impacts of conversing robots. It was a great experience and the panel started an interesting discussion that still continues.

Social RobotsI was inspired to start a publication on the topic of Social Robots on Medium.

Why Medium? Medium seems to be getting a lot of activity these days and some of my favorite stories are posted there, like the articles written as part of the Chatbots Magazine.

I’ve very interested in what I’ll call the “chatbot movement” and I write a lot about conversational UIs and conversational commerce at Opus Research. But I’m even more interested in voice interactive devices and the opportunities they present.

The first article I’ve posted in the Social Robots publication is called Shooting the Breeze About Social Robots.  I try to share some of the highlights from the SpeechTek keynote panel discussion, which included Peter Krogh of Jibo and Leor Grebler of UCIC.

Please have a look at the article and, if you feel so inclined, share it. I’d like to get others to contribute to the publication, so if you’re interested in the social robots topic, reach out to me via your favorite channel and let’s talk!

 

 

 

SpeechTek 2016 Offers Opportunities to Talk about Connected Toys and Conversational Robots

Next week at SpeechTek 2016 I’ll be joining others to discuss the exciting topic of connected, conversational devices.

I’m looking forward to participating on a keynote panel next Tuesday, May 24th on the topic of “Social Impact of Conversing Robots.” Peter Krogh of Jibo will moderate the panel and I’ll be joined by Leor Grebler of UCIC and Bruce Balentine of Enterprise Integration Group. Some of the areas we may cover include what people might want to talk to robots about, where the content told by robots will come from, how much robots will know about us and how that might drive the conversation, and what technological advances are needed to make robots better conversational partners.

Conversational ToysOn Wednesday, May 25th, I’ll be giving a presentation entitled “Talking Toys: Technology and Outlook.” There is a lot  going on in this field right now. Many toy makers and startups are experimenting with connected devices to both explore what these devices can offer consumers and to test out the market.

Internet-connected dolls that talk are still controversial. But there’s little doubt that conversational toys will be part of the future. There have been and will continue to be growing pains around security, privacy, and even conversational content for talking toys. We’re still in the early days of defining standards and understanding how regulations like COPPA factor into the development of safe and engaging connected devices designed for children. Even devices like the Amazon Echo, which aren’t considered “toys,” offer a glimpse into what types entertainment and educational content are possible with voice interfaces.

I’ll explore both the challenges and opportunities of talking toys in my presentation and I’m hoping for a lively discussion. If time permits, we’ll have some connected devices available to demo. We can also demo the work we’ve been up to at Hutch.ai, where we’re building a marketplace of content designed for conversational toys and devices.

Update to Opus Research’s Intelligent Assistance Landscape

Last week the team at Opus Research published an update to the Intelligent Assistance Landscape. This update represents the first major revision since the landscape was first published in partnership with VentureBeat last fall.

This new version includes updates to the industry players that populate various categories across the landscape. Opus has also refined the categories themselves. If you haven’t seen the landscape or had a chance to delve into it, here’s a quick synopsis.

Intelligent Assistance Landscape

Click to open a full view of the landscape

The top half of the diagram identifies core technologies that enable intelligent assistance. Opus distinguishes two main groups of enabling technologies.

Conversational technologies underpin the natural language exchange between humans and machines. Speech I/O services facilitate the understanding of spoken words and enable machines to talk. Text I/O services support natural language input and understanding via text. This category can also include dialog management services and chatbots. Avatars provide embodiment for intelligent agents, while emotion and sentiment analysis enable software to interpret and act upon knowledge of human emotions and context.

Intelligent Assistance technologies are the powerful core services that help machines understand meaning and intent and learn how to serve us better. These technologies include Speech Analytics, Natural Language Processing, Machine Learning, Semantic Search and Knowledge Management.

The bottom half of the Intelligent Assistance Landscape provides a taxonomy for the various types of smart assistants. While the terminology used for these services is fluid, Opus Research has put a stake in the ground by establishing specific criteria for each category.

Opus defines Mobile and Personal Assistants as smart agents that understand us and whose primary purpose is to help us control the smart objects around us. Assistants such as Siri and Google Now, for example, activate functions on our mobile phones, Amazon’s Alexa controls objects in our smart home, and assistants in cars control the features of our connected vehicle.

Personal Advisors focus on helping us manage complex tasks. These assistants tend to be more specialized and they are generally product agnostic. For example, a specialized personal travel advisor can assist with planning and booking trips and they suggest products and services from a wide array of providers.

Virtual Agents and Customer Assistants are customer-facing, self-service assistants. These assistants represent one company or brand. Their knowledge of the company’s products and services is typically fairly broad and they focus on providing information that customers ask most frequently.

Employee Assistants help people do their jobs within an enterprise. These assistants are generally integrated with the enterprise software applications that employees rely on most and they can also aggregate information to make it more readily available.

The domain of intelligent assistants is gaining increasing attention. The update to Opus Research’s Intelligent Assistance Landscape adds some insightful clarity around this complex topic.

Two Sources of News on Chatbots and Messaging

Over the past month or so I’ve taken advantage of two new sources of information about what’s going on in the world of chatbots and messaging. There seems to be a trend where folks provide curated links to interesting, recent posts and articles around specific technology themes. Two examples of curated weekly lists are Chat Bots Weekly and Messaging Weekly. I think I ran across both of these lists on Product Hunt, which seems to be a great place these days for discovering products and lists on the cutting bot edge.

Messaging and ChatbotsChat Bots Weekly is curated by Omar Pera. Each week Omar selects a handful of recent articles on chatbots from publishers and blog sites. Omar is following the huge upswing in the bot hype cycle to bring readers stories focused on bots, conversational interfaces, and what it all means for businesses and developers.

Messaging Weekly is curated by the team at Smooch. As with Chat Bots Weekly, Messaging Weekly typically offers up four or so articles from around the web that deal with conversational UI, how to design and build conversational UIs, and who’s doing what in the space.

Based on the subject matter of each these two weekly lists, there can be a little bit of overlap in the content. And since I follow this space pretty closely, the lists sometimes contain articles I’ve already run across during the week. But I’m a fan of both of the lists and recommend them. You can sign up to have each list delivered to your email account of choice by going to their website.

It’s great that Omar and the team at Smooch are taking the time to compile these weekly lists to help us all stay in the loop. With so much happening these days in the world of conversational UI, it’s hard to keep up! But we wouldn’t want to miss anything.

On a side note, those of you who have been following my blog may have noticed that I’m not posting here as often as I used to. You can find my posts on the topic of intelligent assistants, conversational UI, bots and so forth on the Opus Research site. Apart from my work as an analyst at Opus, I’m busy with a new technology startup called Hutch.AI. We’re putting finishing touches on a bedtime storytelling skill for the Amazon Echo. I’ll be sure to post about it once it’s launched.

Ben Eidelson’s Look at the Messaging Landscape of 2016

Ben Eidelson published a very interesting article on Medium last week called The Messaging Landscape in 2016. Eidelson provides a great overview of why messaging has become the world’s most popular form of communication. He also offers insights into the expansion of messaging beyond person-to-person communication, as well as a look at the platforms and technologies poised to support this growth.

MessagingAfter reading Eidelson’s observations on what’s so great about messaging, his insights seem obvious. But I’d never connected the dots the way that Eidelson does to really understand why messaging is such a compelling form of communication.

Here’s my summary of Eidelson’s key points on the beauty of messaging:

  1. Messaging is essentially asynchronous, but it can be synchronous when needed. There so many benefits to reaching out to someone in an asynchronous manner. It takes lots of pressure off, it feels more polite and respectful of the other person’s time and space, and it requires so much less commitment than making a voice call.
  2. The messaging interactions we have with acquaintances and loved ones linger in our messaging apps as long-lived conversations. You can always refer back to previous conversations, so you have the whole history of your interactions with that person all in one convenient place.
  3. The conversation list in your messaging app becomes your default interface into the people most important in your life. The messaging app intuitively shows the people you’re currently or recently interacting with at the top. This native ordering makes messaging apps the most natural social platform of all.

Eidelson also looks at the hype around the potential for messaging to expand into business-to-consumer interactions. He’s a believer in the many benefits that messaging-based interactions can have for both businesses and the customers they serve.

The article also provides a good overview of the messaging landscape. Eidelson puts the players in this space into three main categories: end-user messaging apps, platform APIs, and assistants for “X.” His index of companies at the end of the post is a good guide.

If you’re interested in the world of messaging, the supporting vendors, and the potential for market opportunities, Eidelson’s post is definitely worth a read.

Lauren Kunze of Pandorabots On Chatbots

Last week Lauren Kunze of Pandorabots wrote a great article for Techcrunch On Chatbots. If anybody knows a thing or two about chatbots, it’s Lauren. I like the analogy she uses at the beginning of the article. Chatbots, she writes, are like the proverbial ugly duckling. Suddenly out of nowhere these much maligned creatures are taking our messaging platforms by storm and strutting about like beautiful swans.

chatbotsKunze goes on to address and debunk several myths of chatbots. One of the myths she confronts is the notion that chatbots are the same thing as bots. To be honest, the distinction between the two species had started to blur in my mind.

For Kunze, chatbots are first and foremost conversational. They exist to interact with humans in a conversational way, whether that be in the form of text or speech. So a bot that does things but isn’t conversational doesn’t fit well into Kunze’s chatbot category.

And just how easy is it to build one? There may be more work involved than you’ve been led to believe. There are tools to support your efforts, though, if you know where to look.

Can chatbots really provide value to businesses and their customers? What tasks are they well-suited for and where do their weaknesses lie?

I highly encourage you to read the original article to learn more about misconceptions you may have about chatbots and to understand why you may be missing a golden opportunity.

 

 

The Case for Conversational Interfaces

IPG Media Lab hosted a panel discussion on the topic of Conversational Interfaces. The panelists included representatives from Msg.ai, X.ai, and SoundHound. The general consensus among panelists was that messaging is solidifying its place as the preferred mode of mobile communication. It’s true that voice interfaces are rapidly improving and gaining traction. And  email is probably still the channel that businesses use most often to schedule meetings. But consumers are flocking to messaging platforms to communicate with friends and, increasingly, even to do business.

Text BubblesCompanies like Msg.ai and Imperson are popping up to help brands design conversational characters that can interact with consumers via popular messaging platforms. During the IPG Media Lab panel, Msg.ai founder and CEO Puneet Mehta spoke about a campaign his company worked on for Sony Pictures to promote the Goosebumps film. Msg.ai created a conversational chatbot to represent the snarky Slappy character from the film. This promotion was similar to the one involving Imperson’s promotion of The Muppets Show that I wrote about a few months ago.

What are the compelling reasons to start looking at shifting brand promotion to messaging platforms? How can you leverage existing intelligent assistant technologies to get a leg up on conversational interfaces? I examine these questions in more depth in my recent post Messaging: The Future of Brand Engagement? on the Opus Research site.