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January 17, 2018


Conversational AI driving Screenless UX

by Ravi Kalakota

Conversational AI is clearly the now and the future.  According to Satya Nadella, “Bots are the new apps.”  In 2019, 33% of US internet users will augment their digital experience using voice assistants.

In 2016, there were 3 million Amazon Echos and limited consumer use cases. Today, there are over 35 million voice-first devices, 100M’s of voice-enabled devices, and consumers are searching for Voice+Visual experiences.  The explosion of consumers expecting voice driven commerce to serve a core demand —  information search, product search and purchase — requires brand new capabilities.

What are conversational bots? Any computer program able to interact or conduct a conversation with a human via auditory or textual method. People enjoy the conversational interface. According to Nielsen, people spend more than 4 hrs per day in communication apps (and growing).

What are conversational (or screenless) experiences? Any voice or text-based experience (such as chatbots or voice assistant apps – Siri, Alexa, Cortona, Google Home) that uses natural language understanding to dialog with users.

[Synonyms: Conversational interface, screenless UX, dialog system, conversational UX, conversational app, conversational commerce, chatbot, chatter-bot, bot]

What’s fueling the fast growth?  More data, faster hardware, better algorithms and advancement in AI. Brands are actively engaging in conversations with people on social media, messaging apps, and new smart devices.  As a result,  user demands are growing as well.

What are Conversational Systems? 

Conversational systems can range from simple informal, bidirectional text or voice conversations such as an answer to a simple question to “Hey Siri, What time is it?” to more complex interactions such as e-commerce, scheduling a doctor’s appointment or getting a prescription filled.

Conversational systems shift from a model where people adapt to bots to one where the bots “hears” and adapts to a person’s desired outcome. Conversational systems do not use text/voice as the only interface but enable people and machines to use multiple modalities (e.g., sight, sound, tactile, etc.) to communicate across the digital ecoystem (e.g., sensors, appliances, IoT systems).

Conversational systems are necessary because customers now expect you to: (1) provide better service that learns from every interaction;  (2) be available anytime – voice, e–mail, messaging; (3) based on context knows their likes and needs;  and (4) responds instantly.  Your conversational app, which facilitates intelligent dialog between people and systems needs to address these user demands.

Plenty of chatbot building block enablers exist, ranging from IBM Watson, Nuance, Microsoft Bot Framework, Google’s, and Facebook’s

What are Conversational Journeys?

Conversational experiences or Conversational Journeys will be an integral part of the future.  The four common journeys are:

  1. Customer Support –  “Over 80% of customer interactions can be resolved
    by a well-designed chatbot.”  Gartner
  2. E-commerce transactions (Look-to-Buy) – Alexa, buy xyz.
  3. Lookup and Search  –  Siri – what is the temperature outside? Or, who won the best actress award at the last year Oscars?
  4. Tasks – Ok Google, start my car

A great customer support bot can: (1) Reduce costs, # of support  calls, time to resolution; (2)  Free up agent’s time to handle complex cases; (3) Provide help 24/7. Support bots are systems that learn using Machine Learning.

Algorithms and tools for conversational experiences are evolving rapidly. There are numerous firms – Alphabet, Apple, AWS, Facebook, Microsoft, Alibaba, Baidu, Uber – racing to enable end-to-end developer platforms for building natural and rich conversational experiences.  Dialogflow from Google is one.

What’s next for Conversational AI?

Lot of companies are experimenting. However, there is a lack of expertise in large corporations to create enterprise scale conversational AI. As a result, there is delay in being able to unlock business value.

So, what does the next 5 years look like? Stay tuned.




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