The Bot Effect Friending a Brand

Anyone 5 years ago who would have predicted that the CEO of Microsoft will announce that (ro) bots on messenger platforms is at the core of their new strategy, would be declared insane. But that's exactly what Satya Nadella did on March 31, 2016.

Anyone 5 years ago who would have predicted that the CEO of Microsoft will announce that (ro) bots on messenger platforms is at the core of their new strategy, would be declared insane. But that's exactly what Satya Nadella did on March 31, 2016. Followed by Mark Zuckerberg two weeks later, announcing the exact same strategy. What's behind this, and how should we interpret this robot development? The end of the app era dawns.

"The Bot Effect: Friending a Brand 'is the second report in the series on Machine Intelligence Sogeti's Exploration Institute New Technology.

Breakthrough of machine intelligence

On April 12, 2016 Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook, shared his vision on the digital future. During the developer conference 'F8' he declared that that 'bots' - clever pieces of software - will be provided widely accessible to Facebook Messenger.  People are able to add organizations to their friend list and start a conversation. Because it is impossible for an organization to engage in a real conversation with everyone, bots will do that for them. These bots not only listen, but they can also find out things, book a flight or buy or suggest something. That this is all possible has everything to do with the emergence of machine intelligence. Thanks to the ability to interpret natural language (natural language processing) and to respond in a comprehensive manner (natural language generation), robots, like humans, have a conversation. At least, they are becoming more capable.

Friending your brand

KLM recently launched a virtual assistant that you can add to your Facebook Messenger or WeChat list. That's convenient, because changes on the departure time of your flight will be automatically sent and you can change your seat in a conversation on the messaging platform. You will normally need a separate app to do these kind of things. But in this case you do not have to leave the chat window while talking with your children. You swap your seat and continue to chat with others at the same time. You can ask questions in your own words, and the bot will arrange it for you. A service with a smile and a 'brand as a friend’ is the dream of every marketer. Basically, it provides a wealth of new possibilities: the postman-bot that lets you know that he is near your home with a parcel, or dietitian who comes on the line if you do not move enough. Using location data, social media updates, lists of friends, restaurants where you've been, the agenda of the next week, and so on, the smart agent creates a perfect digital image of us to assist us where possible.

Microsoft opened its botstore

In late March Microsoft's CEO, Satya Nadella, announced at the Build conference that the new strategy of the company is based by robots and chat platforms. "Conversation as a platform Nadella calls it.  "We are on the cusp of a new frontier that pairs the power of natural human language with advanced machine intelligence." he said. Nadella explained that artificial intelligence in the form of chat bots are "The next big thing" and added that it’s just as important as the introduction of the web browser, the graphical user interface and the touchscreen. In the Business Week article "Clippy's Back: The Future of Microsoft Chatbots" is explained in detail why Microsoft thinks every company - from hairdressing to car manufacturer - are going to make a bot. To achieve this kind of business, Microsoft recently opened a Bot Framework. This enables you to create and manage your own bots. The so called Bot Connector plays an important role, as it connects your bot to all the different chat platforms. Botstores replace the app stores. Do you see the compelling advantages? Finally freed from questions about a button in an app; should it be left or right, and should the background color be red or orange? In one fell swoop, all of these design issues are history. From now on, the interface is the conversation, not an app. It also provides new design issues. How do you design a good conversation for instance, what character should you give your bots? Not for nothing Microsoft hires experts from Hollywood to give the AI flagship Cortana an interesting personality.

Conversations popular than apps

The figures are well known and impressive: every day three billion people are using a messaging platform; one billion use WhatsApp, Messenger counts 900 million, Wechat 650 million and Line 215 million. Conversations dominate the Internet, and doing business while chatting is the new emerging trend. The new word for that is 'conversational commerce'. The creators of chat bots bring their products to the market as' Artificial Intelligence for Conversational Commerce'. The term "conversational commerce" was coined by Chris Messina. He was surprised in 2015 by integrating Uber within Facebook Messenger. This change in the way companies can approach customers directly, he describes as follows:

"Conversational Commerce :

Utilizing chat, messaging, or other natural language interfaces (i.e., voice) to interact with people, brands, or services and bots, therefore have had no real place in the bidirectional, asynchronous messaging context."

If we look at the figures, we see that chat has been more important than apps. Around 42 billion messages are sent daily via WhatsApp and 1.6 billion photos and 250 million videos are shared on that platform. "Messaging is one of the few things that people do more than social networking." - Mark Zuckerberg said in a public interview in November 2014. By messaging you create an alternative to the worldwide web and the various app stores. Messaging as a platform where bots are included make apps obsolete. Bots are the new apps.

Asian paradigm

The reason two of the main players in information technology have so much faith in this bot-future, is due to China's WeChat. This messenger platform already opened its doors to bots. The Chinese can pay a bill directly from the messaging environment WeChat, transfer money, book a restaurant or order a taxi. On New Year's Eve 2016 alone, there were over 8.08 billion WeChat 'red envelopes' (a bot that sends money), while PayPal for the full year 2015 'only' had 4.9 billion transactions processed. Of the 700 million Chinese who are daily on WeChat, there are 300 million that have such digital pay-bot. It elicited David Marcus, VP Messaging Products of Facebook and former CEO of PayPal, to make the following statement: "Messaging is really, truly the next frontier ... The Asian paradigm has shown there's a there there.” There is a 'there there', in other words, 'we see a bright future'. If 300 million Chinese people are paying through a chat program, the rest of the world is following these developments with great interest. WeChat now has 10 million services on their platform. "If you want to start a business in China, you are not the first to start a website, but you open an official WeChat account.” The number of officially registered users is more than 1 billion. You can plan a doctor's visit in China via WeChat. First select the bot that you need, in this case one that makes an appointment with the doctor. Then choose the hospital, the department and the doctor, and finally plan the visit in the calendar of the specific doctor. Of course, this functionality depends on the processes and business rules, which vary by country.

The bot effect

We are at the beginning of the post-app era. There's a shift from apps to conversation, from apps to messaging platforms and from app-stores to bot-stores. This all is triggered by machine intelligence, also known as artificial intelligence. The fact that machines are now (more and more) capable of understanding natural language like voice and speech, and talk back is something that we've seen happening in science fiction movies. Now fiction becomes a fact. Due to better hardware, new neuromorphic chips and Big Data, these machines are able to learn and improve. The impact of this shift in possibilities has implications for businesses and human beings, for efficiency and psychology. We foresee a playground of the following four elements.

1  People-fication of IT

Properties that were previously reserved for men, such as conducting a conversation, listening to arguments or anticipating certain intentions, now come within the scope of information technology. As these human capabilities of machines are getting better, it's likely that we will treat computers more and more as if it were a real human. Some proof of that is already found in chatbots like the chines 'Little Bing'. This people-fication, as we like to call it (or antropomorphic personification) could have a possible backfire on human to human conversations. When bots are 24/7 willing to listen, when they are more knowledgeable and always serve us with a smile, will people still accept other people not to be interested or friendly anymore? Bots will lift the bar for a new standard.

2  The emergence of the 'butler economy'

The ability to engage in a conversation with a bot, provide creates a master-butler relationship. A servant who is always ready to put on a polite and discreet way to be of service to us, means a huge improvement of the service in most situations. Little things that we need to do daily will be done by bots. One of the side effects is that 'search' as we know it will come to an end. No need to go to Google any more, if the conversation and a butler are leading to the desired outcome.

3  A battle on micro moments is about to begin

Conversations are commonplace and conversational commerce stresses that many 'trade' is done in lost moments. These are the times when people pack their smartphone and do their things on the spot. These micro moments are crucial to the strategy of companies. Conversational capabilities will support that strategy.

4  Bot conversations on the work floor

The same principles of conversational commerce can be used in the workplace, and this has become known by the term 'conversational office'. The bot as a colleague or boss is a very likely future. In Japan, McCann, an advertising and marketing organization, has just assigned its first Chief Creative Director in their board. Doctors and Lawyers will work together with their machine mates, and call center agents already are getting replaced by robots.

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