In my previous blog, I discussed my take on the future and potential of artificial intelligence, analyzing my own use of an Amazon’s Alexa Voice Service technology, and dreaming up a world where artificial assistants are our closest friends, our number one source of news and entertainment, and AI supersedes existing platforms in a post-digital era.
Sound like sci-fi? I’m not so sure.
At this point you might peg me as Joaquin-Phoenix-Her-level strange, but the market for Alexa skills proves that I’m not alone. Per the Alexa skill store, the largest skill categories for Alexa include news, games, trivia and accessories, educational reference, and novelty and humor in that order. Further, the most downloaded skills include an interactive adventure called Magic Door, a skill that reads bedtime stories, and a skill called “Inspire Me.” Consumers are leveraging the entertainment value of these devices rather than their utility, and industry leaders are taking note.
According to Fjord, “Amazon, Microsoft, and Google are already hiring comedians and script writers in a bid to harness the human-like aspect of AI.” At CES in January, Toyota provided a view into this world with a visionary presentation featuring “Yui,” an imagined AI which would combine features like intelligent driving intervention based on perceived driver stress level with a human-like interface possessing mature emotional intelligence. The AI was shown in different scenes—entertaining the driver’s daughter, noticing the emotions of the driver and offering encouragement, and providing nostalgic memories and music selections based on the driver’s mood. What stunned and inspired the audience was less the AI’s capabilities, and more the emotional perceptiveness of the technology. Perhaps most surprising – an ambitious ten-year time horizon between present day and the portrayed market delivery.
With all of this in mind, we can validate that consumer interest exists.
Companies in every industry will soon be forced to dramatically reconsider their customer experience strategy. Industry leaders that prepare for this shift ahead of time have a phenomenal opportunity to jump ahead of the curve, but doing so will require an entirely new playbook in a world beyond digital. While today’s AI capabilities may not allow for an emotional connection on par with Yui, organizations can begin preparations and leverage the limited capability of existing technology to offer their customers a novel experience.
From a retail perspective, there exists the opportunity for simplified, customized, and more engaging drill down searches. The North Face Expert Personal Shopper (XPS), which identifies product matches based on use case rather than the traditional gender, size, and color pipeline, is a perfect example. Through questions like “where and when will you be wearing this jacket,” and “what will you be doing,” the technology offers a more tailored experience, and better-informed purchase decisions. With artificial intelligence, retail brands can bring product experts and sales representatives right to a consumers’ living room.
In time, contact heavy industry groups like insurance, utilities, and banking will bring spoken payment authorization and notification to the market. E-statements will become on-demand audio-statements, and tracking utilization habits will be as simple as asking for it. Allstate and Liberty Mutual Insurance have already introduced these types of capabilities to the Alexa skill store, and, thanks to skills like MyStock, many users are executing market buy and sell orders on command. In New York City, it’s now possible to check the status of your garbage collection on-demand. In recent months, West Monroe has joined the action, testing AI-based scheduling solutions for the healthcare and insurance industries, all in preparation for what’s next. With AI a second level of engagement is more accessible than ever before.
As AI humanizes it will earn a sense of trust. With that, consumers will look to computers to handle monotonous interactions like scheduling appointments, paying bills and ordering household products. As this transition materializes, large companies will need to prepare to interact with automated assistants more frequently than their customers themselves. Building this compatibility will require meticulous planning, but will also automate the most unpleasant portions of the customer experience – a fantastic opportunity for contact heavy industry groups to eliminate a significant pain point.
The earlier these industry groups prepare, the smoother their transition will be to this emerging platform and the more quickly they can use AI as a differentiator.
We may not be in post-digital utopia just yet, but with incremental improvements and broadened capabilities on the not-so-distant horizon, we’re far closer than you may think.
Image of the Concept-i car, which includes the AI agent Yui, via Toyota.