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How Bots, Voice Recognition & AI Are Changing the Consumer Tech Landscape

Last week’s CB Insights Innovation Summit focused on how chatbots, voice recognition and the future of AI are changing the tech landscape for consumers today.

Last week’s CB Insights Innovation Summit focused on how chatbots, voice recognition and the future of AI are changing the tech landscape for consumers today.

Last week’s CB Insights Innovation Summit focused on how chatbots, voice recognition and the future of AI are changing the tech landscape for consumers today. CNBC’s Ari Levy interviewed Arthur Johnson (VP Corporate Development and Global Partnerships at Twilio) and Jeremy Liew (Partner at Lightspeed Venture Partners)  about how interfaces of the future are changing the ways both consumers and companies interact. Check out some of our key takeaways from the livestream.

You’ve Got to Bring Bots More to Life

At a high level, there are two main types of bots: bots that operate independently with completely automated responses and bots that operate through a messaging platform such as Facebook Messenger. And they aren’t exactly new. Bots have been used for over 10 years in customer service operations. But both Johnson and Liew agreed that in order for companies to build the next generation of successful bots, they must use personalization and a limited domain to compete in the crowded U.S. app landscape.

“There are some interactions that are better suited for bot technology today than others,” said Twilio’s Johnson. “When you have limited domain, controlled environments and customer service interactions, these are better suited for bots. The more complicated interactions may not be suited for bot technology yet, but there is still a lot of promise in this area.”

Bigger companies like IBM, Facebook and Google will have a leg up on AI innovations, but smaller companies can tap into this technology and benefit as well. Multiple industries such as retail, food and healthcare will benefit from the major potential that exists in chatbots technology. For example, if customers can access bots from their favorite stores through social media sites, it will make customer service easier for both customers and retailers.

“In China, we saw WeChat was so successful because the web and apps were kinda crappy as alternative,” said Liew from Lightspeed Venture Partners. “Here in the West, the web and apps are pretty good for most use cases. The way a user is interacting with a customer service rep was better than it was there before. To drive chat, you have to get better.”

Keep an Eye on Voice Recognition

Recently, a lot of companies have tried to make money building AI communication products. Since AI models are difficult to build and train, this task has proven challenging. The panelists noted that Amazon’s Alexa [used to reference Alexa-driven products such as the Amazon Echo] and Google Home are currently leaders in the space. These devices, however, aren’t pocket-friendly. To compensate, developers are making cellphone apps that work with these products.

“These are new modalities that are open to you and these can generate new use cases,” said Liew. “For instance, being able to call an Uber from my Alexa app isn’t a new use case, it’s a new channel of behavior for existing companies.”

Liew mentioned that voice recognition could be the next best platform because you don’t have to use your hands to interact with Alexa or Google Home. Even individuals who have difficulty using apps and web browsers or those that are unable to read and write could benefit. The possibilities are endless.

“It’s eerily scary how natural [communicating with Alexa] is,” said Johnson. “I can talk fast, I can talk slow or even with an accent, but it’s accurate. That’s the secret sauce. I wanted it to remember my preferences and being able to tie all these preferences and different interfaces together will be a special experience.”

Future Concerns Around Security & Usability

Neither Liew nor Johnson mentioned how these devices will be protected from hacking. If an Alexa is connected to multiple devices and gets hacked, what will happen? Will you still be able to use your Nest thermostat and operate your IoT connected garage door opener? Even with the capabilities of connected devices, an attack could cause private information to be leaked.

Usability will also be a major factor for consumers. Neither the Alexa or the Google Home has a screen, which may turn-off some buyers. IoT connected devices also are not cheap. Consumers will also have to decide whether or not there they see value from paying more for a connected device even if it does make their lives easier.

These platforms are the foundation of the future. Voice recognition will influence the way all types of people use artificial intelligence to make everyday tasks easier. As bots become more mainstream, more companies will try to capitalize on the quickly crowding market.

Companies will need to develop unique bots that provide value for customers and avenues for smaller companies to tap into the technology. We’re excited to see how consumers will benefit from these advancements in upcoming years.