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Bots and the competitive edge of tomorrow

Last week in Palo Alto there was a gathering organized by American Business Association of Russian-Speaking Professionals (AmBAR). The panel moderated by John Markoff of New York Times consisted of prominent speakers who are a part of this emerging phenomenon of “chat bots”. All in all the panel was “meh”, or so I thought initially. After a day or two of soaking in (I am a slow thinker 🙂 ) I realized there were several interesting and important points raised by the panelists that are quite relevant for startups and mature business alike:

  • Everyone agreed that real AI (think “Her” and “Ex Machina”-esque) is far far away;
  • Bots will become another communication channel that business need to operate. Much like websites in 90s and mobile apps in 2000s;
  • There will likely be both vertical aggregators that serve in particular verticals (think Weather bots, Car shopping bots, restaurant recommendation bots etc) and individual company bots for those who can afford it — such as big brands. These bots would help engage the user in unique new ways that augment current channels but not necessarily replace them;
  • Much like industrial revolution automated manual repetitive labor, bots are poised to automate mental repetitive labor;

The thinking of bots as an additional communication channel has interesting implications for how businesses conduct marketing, engagement, and even value delivery. There is almost no interface more natural than spoken language as it is ultimately the interface we use to interact with one another and the one in which most rational knowledge is expressed.

While, there is still some way for us to go in the problem of understanding natural language in AI, language as the interface is already emerging in certain areas. Businesses that realize this advantage first are uniquely positioned to get ahead of the competition. Finding opportunities where language can be that new interface for either input or output or both, where it would amplify 10x or 100x the “power” of users, that is where the new and exciting frontier lies for us.