by Jenny

on April 13, 2016

The GUI is out, and the bots are in


How will our interactions with machines change in 2016, and what this means for businesses

In the following series of blog posts we will explain how the recent developments in artificial intelligence and changing consumer behavior are driving a fundamental shift in how we interact with our devices.

To summarize, the user interface as we know it is going away as machines are able to interpret our commands the same way as humans can.

A couple of weeks ago, Google’s AlphaGo beat Lee Sedol in a five match game of Go, claiming an important milestone in artificial intelligence research. While the news made headlines globally, it was a simple consequence of earlier breakthrough achieved in parallel processing, the use of Graphic Processing Units (GPUs) for machine learning, and the development of deep neural networks. In fact, the developments in these spaces are arguably more important than AlphaGo’s victory, as competition in this area is driving prices down, as well as fueling a new engine of innovation based on so-called Cognition as a Service solutions.

An era of virtual assistants 

In layman’s terms, we are at the point where computers are able to comprehend text- or speech based instructions. Cortana, Siri and Google Now are all familiar part of our lives as general purpose virtual assistants, and there’s a rush of both talent and capital towards developing more specialized virtual agents. Additionally, where pure computation fails, a mixture of human and machine interaction lies behind the assistant, like with Facebook’s M or the application Magic.

These Intelligent Virtual Assistants are driving the resurgence of chatbots. Once peculiar experiments or limited use tools, the old bots such as SmarterChild or Cleverbot are now ready to take up much more important tasks in our lives. Capably and with less amusement value when they fail to deliver, they are nothing to scoff at.

Slack, the team chat application platform has already proven to companies worldwide just how strong a command controlled bot can be when integrated into business processes. The fact that Slack’s integrated applications can be controlled much in the same way as old IRC bots have lead the technically savvy to embrace it, and Slack itself has launched their own venture fund to aid development of bot controlled applications within its service.

But the combination of chat platforms and bots to interpret human commands is not restricted to coders. As consumers have moved from social networks to messaging applications, a trend that has been lead by China’s WeChat, western companies have responded with key acquisitions and opening their platforms to developers.

If we look at how users in the Far-East are using their devices, it is clear that a well-designed messaging application can achieve a far more fluid user experience than any app before it. This trend is further accelerated as the chatbots get smarter, requiring less human resources from businesses to keep in touch with their customers on these platforms.

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In fact, the strongest edge the Chinese platforms have over their western counterparts – for now – is that they have a “Buy” button integrated, allowing customers to make purchases without leaving the chat, by interacting with a virtual assistant.

Businesses, in order to stay competitive, must learn to adapt to a new future where the consumer would rather chat, and would do so on their own terms, using familiar interfaces or applications that they already have installed. In short, the polls are in, and people aren’t going to download your app anymore.

Uber’s recent integration into Facebook Messenger should be a strong indicator of things to come. But the bots are changing the game for everyone – from news to e-commerce to travel, etc. No stone will be left unturned by the end of 2016.

And while it’s obvious that some features and applications are still better off being commanded through a few presses of a button, the signs are clear:

The GUI is going away, and the bots are coming in.

To be continued.

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