The Next Hot Space: Chat Bots and Conversational Interfaces

The rise of the Smart (and not so smart) Chat Bots.

I’ve talked at length before about the Seamless World, wherein some not too distant future, big data, the internet of things, predictive analytics and automation will all come together to create a world without interfaces, where everything we need to happen in our lives simply happens, without our ongoing involvement. We go from fighting with our technology to get it to do what we want, to it finally relieving us of our day-to-day simple burdens and finally allowing technology to be an aide and guide to humankind, instead of enslaving us.

In the course to that future, however, we’ve done the opposite. We’ve gone from allowing the experts to do the work, to providing anyone with tools to do the work instead. We’ve taken things out of the hands of the experts, and given them, with very little training, to the user, expecting that the tools that we have built for the user are so powerful and amazing that they would prefer to use them, instead of the expert. We’ve designed and built tools to augment everyone with information superpowers, like a super-suit exoskeleton, which lets ordinary people perform extraordinary feats.

But did we ask the user – do you really want that kind of power? My guess would be, not really.

Everything that we have done so far, up until a very short while ago, was to empower the user with the abilities that they have never been able to have. We’ve wiped out countless industries by encoding the intelligence of those industries in software, building tools to mimic those powers, and then handing those powers over to the user. We’ve slapped interfaces onto everything and pushed the power to them. I mean really, who wouldn’t want that power?

Finally, we realized, no one, really. Or at least, very few.

We’ve built very powerful web interfaces, then very powerful mobile interfaces, which provide the user the ultimate in choice when we really should be doing the exact opposite. We should, by now, already know, more or less, what the user wants. So when he or she asks for something, we should be able to give him or her the answer.

The direction which we should be moving in: super powerful, intelligent, interface free, cyborg powered chatbots.

  1. The first indication: Google’s super-simple “command line” style, search box. Enter something, get an answer. Enhance and improve the results using the collected user information.
  2. Next, take that same functionality to audio and you have Siri – similar in style, but with an attitude and maybe a little more power.
  3. Google Now, their answer to Siri, but with a more powerful and expansive set of information. Also, does some proactive searching based on sensor and user data.
  4. After that, Amazon Echo. Still not quite there yet, but getting there.
  5. Soon to be released, Viv, from the creators of Siri, an even more powerful chatbot.
  6. Slack, a superannuated instant messenger, takes over the business world, greatly in part due to add-ons and plug-in chatbots. You can even order Taco Bell.
  7. Whatsapp and Facebook Messenger prep their own.

This is all great news for the Seamless World. We are moving to a place of little interface (whereas the Seamless World is one of no interface at all) where we simply send a request to a service, and powerful cyborg tech (I use the term since the likelihood that all of these services need a human/machine blend of processing in order to truly be useful) gives us exactly what we want. No more surfing through endless websites. No more using multiple price comparison mobile apps. Finally, technology working for us, and not against us. No wonder it’s the next hot space.

The Time Is Ripe

Now is the time to start thinking about this kind of interface for your business, if you haven’t already.

  1. If you haven’t launched your startup yet, take a serious look at pivoting to latch onto this trend. Look at how you may be able to repurpose your code into creating smart chat bots instead of a mobile or web app. This is key for any software app, period. There are already some startups pivoting in that direction.
  2. If you have already launched and are already active, look at adding a chatbot interface to your current offerings. In reality, it will likely not be all that difficult, since its an interfaceless solutions, adding a layer to your current back end. Seriously consider focusing on the bot interface as your primary interface.
  3. How can you be more conversational in your approach, overall? If you think longer term, the Seamless World will require a conversation in order to train the system to provide services in the right time and place for the user. A conversational interface, whether its text or voice, is the next logical step in that direction. Think hard about how you can provide a conversational interface to your startup.

PS: Forgot to mention Magic, which seems to be currently human powered now, but I’m sure will move to a cyborg model at some point.