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8 predictions for A.I. and bots in the next 24 months

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In the last twelve months, we’ve witnessed a huge surge in the development and adoption of chatbots, artificial intelligence (A.I.), and machine learning. Many startups, including my own (ReplyYes), are utilizing A.I. and chatbots to help consumers engage with brands through their mobile devices in interesting and creative ways. Examples include the Domino’s chatbot, which enables customers to order a pizza through Facebook Messenger, the Burberry chatbot for London Fashion Week that helps customers order products they see on the runway, and Lowercase Alpha that helps founders and friends of Chris Sacca’s venture capital firm Lowercase discover some of the best new apps in the world.

Given the increasing interest and venture capital dollars being spent to build creative chatbot and A.I. solutions, we’ve developed eight predictions that outline where we think things will evolve in the next 18-24 months.

  1. More chatbots will begin to solve real-world problems. In many instances, early chatbots seemed more like technologies in search of problems rather than customer-centric solutions. As the chatbot hype subsides, technologies mature, and companies get feedback from customers, the problems that chatbots tackle will become more obvious and, in turn, more valuable. An example is our own ReplyYes’s The Edit, which endeavors to solve the problem of product discovery for music lovers. Through a use of progressive disclosure, short keyword interactions, and machine based curation of vinyl albums, we give customers a personalized and serendipitous experience to help them find music they love.
  2. Interaction Design matters — a lot. At first glance, it might seem that a messaging system like a chatbot doesn’t need interaction design; it’s simply a two-way dialogue between a user and an intelligent agent – like texting with your sister. That’s way off base. Interaction design in the context of chatbots is as — if not more — important to get right as interaction design for websites or applications. The flexible and fluid nature of conversational interfaces requires flexible design paradigms and workflows with the appropriate affordances that create intuitive experiences for users. We believe that interaction design for conversational interfaces will become a design discipline of its own.
  3. Artificial intelligence will augment, but not replace, human intelligence. The human language is incredibly nuanced and complex. When companies endeavor to solve problems with A.I. and chatbots, a hybrid approach with a human behind the scenes will be vital for success. Getting stuck in an infinite loop with a chatbot is a terrible and frustrating customer experience, and pretending there isn’t a ‘man behind the curtain’ is folly. Humans will trump machines for true conversations for the foreseeable future — a hybrid approach that melds inputs from real humans with algorithms will yield the best experience.
  4. Vertical solutions represent the best opportunity for startups to create value for their customers. Truth be told, it’s really tough to build smart applications that can understand and interact with humans on a near real-time basis. This problem is infinitely harder for applications like Alexa, Cortana, Google Now and Siri whose horizontal nature enables users to ask them about literally anything. By constraining the scope of the conversation, startups leveraging off-the-shelf natural language processing (NLP) and customized machine learning techniques will have a fighting chance of building high quality and ever evolving chatbots that deliver a delightful and (mostly) automated experience to their customers.
  5. Bots will not replace applications. Some pundits have hailed the rise of intelligent agents like chatbots as the death of applications and, in particular, apps on mobile devices. That’s nonsense. There are contexts in which native applications, which can provide rich, interactive and immersive experiences, make a lot more sense; and there are contexts in which lightweight, bidirectional interactions with chatbots will be easier, faster, and more enjoyable.
  6. Millennials will lead the shift to messaging-based commerce. For millennials and the generations that follow, messaging is the primary way they interact with the world. Messaging with friends and broader networks is the way this generation discovers new products and content today. By pairing discovery with a frictionless ability to transact, we see the 80 million millennials with $200 billion in annual buying power as the early adopters who make ‘conversational commerce’ a category and not just a buzzword.
  7. SMS will continue to be a primary messaging interface and realm in which chatbots play. While Facebook Messenger, Snapchat and WeChat have amassed massive populations of users, simple, plain old text messaging is and will remain a robust channel for chatbots. While text messaging has its share of challenges, it is an open platform in a way that none of the social platforms can or ever will be. Moreover, it works natively on every single mobile phone (smart and not smart), on every continent, and its usage spans all demographics.  As long as people have mobile phones and a need for non-voice communication, text messaging will have a place, and creates a fertile and open playground for chatbots.
  8. Facebook and Snapchat will work to emulate the capabilities and success of WeChat. The U.S.-based social messaging platforms are still in their infancy in providing the conditions and capabilities for businesses and consumers to engage and transact.  In Chana, WeChat now represents one-third of the e-commerce market in China. Over the next 18-24 months, we expect Facebook, Snapchat, and others, to invest heavily in the features and user experiences that will enable a material shift in digital commerce and commerce in general to messaging interfaces.

We’re sure there are many additional trends that we’re not predicting that will come to fruition. Let’s keep moving forward together.

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About Ms. A. C. Kennedy

Ms. A. C. Kennedy
My name is Ms A C Kennedy and I am a Health practitioner and Consultant by day and a serial blogger by night. I luv family, life and learning new things. I especially luv learning how to improve my business. I also luv helping and sharing my information with others. Don't forget to ask me anything!

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What we’re watching: ‘Raw’ and ‘Feast of Fiction’

Welcome back to Video IRL, where several of our editors talk about what they've been watching in their spare time. This month we're kicking things off with some seasonally-appropriate horror fare, that you can catch right away on Netflix or Amazon Prime. Then it's time for a Gundam throwback before Kris Naudus points out a couple of YouTube food channels perfect for binge eating or binge watching.

Them / Raw


Timothy J. Seppala

Timothy J. Seppala
Associate Editor

To get into the Halloween spirit, I've been watching at least one horror movie a day since the end of September -- the lower the budget, the better. Problem is, so many of the American low-budget or indie horror offerings on Amazon and Netflix are crappy Paranormal Activity clones, cheap-thrill gore-fests or uninspired found-footage "documentaries." Whether it's by design or coincidence, I've found that French horror movies have held my attention the most lately. Specifically, 2016's Raw, as well as Them, from ten years prior. They're more psychological thrillers than straight-up horror, but that didn't stop me from being more on edge while watching them one afternoon than I was during A Haunting in Saginaw, Michigan, late at night. Both start with a car crash, but they couldn't finish any more differently.

Raw, recently added to Netflix, tells the tale of a vegetarian girl in her first week at a prestigious veterinary school. During a hazing ritual, she's forced to eat a raw rabbit kidney. She immediately gets sick, throws up and wakes herself up that night scratching a full-body rash to near bleeding. This bout with food poisoning is just the beginning, though, and soon protagonist Justine finds out she has a taste for forbidden fruit. As the remaining 70-ish minutes unfolded, I lost track of how many times I clasped my hands over my mouth, agape in shock, to stifle my shouts of "OHMYGODWHATTHEFUCKISEVENHAPPENING?!"

But French director Julia Ducournau balances every body-horror scene either with something pedestrian twisted into being unsettling (like a horse on a treadmill) or with something that makes you ask how far Justine can go before someone confronts her about her new diet. And those questions keep coming right until the credits roll. I can't say I enjoyed watching Raw, but it was a hell of a ride.

The same goes for Them, currently streaming on Amazon Prime. Its focus is narrow, centering on a young couple living in a cavernous farmhouse, terrorized over the course of a night by unseen horrors. The camera never quite gives away who (or what) the perpetrators are, and revealing the twist would be a sin. As with Raw, its atmosphere and overall creepiness won me over straightaway. The scariest part? Realizing that I've probably driven past a shot like the final scene countless times and not thought twice about it. If you're willing to read subtitles, both of these should make you shiver and scream more than The Conjuring 2 on HBO Go could ever hope to.

Mobile Suit Gundam The 08th MS Team


David Lumb

David Lumb
Contributing Editor

I'd heard that a lot of anime had left Hulu, but I scanned their selection anyway looking for classic shows I'd missed, like the original Mobile Suit Gundam. They don't have that -- but they did have a series I didn't finish the first time it aired on Toonami, the 1996 classic Gundam side story The 08th MS Team. Unlike the franchise's other show released the year before, the massively successful Gundam Wing, 08th ditches the brand's typical pretty-boys-in-unbeatable-robots for a grounded and sobering story about the people who get caught up in wars -- desperate soldiers, civilians and guerrillas alike. It's dirty, honest, utterly humane and gorgeously animated.

It's also a little preachy and melodramatic, and it shows its age with odd sexist moments. While it's still the Thin Red Line of the Gundam universe, I remember it far more fondly from when my 14-year-old self grazed the series on its first American airing. There's something sad in seeing an old favorite for the flawed media it always was. Much like Waypoint's Rob Zacny, I've grown up and seen a lot since I first caught the show as a starry-eyed teen. I still think The 08th MS Team is a wonderful little 12-episode miniseries with a big heart, but I won't revere it so highly -- and will think a little harder about who I recommend it to.

Feast of Fiction / Binging with Babish


Kris Naudus

Kris Naudus
Senior Editor, Database

Back in March, I came home from a trip only to discover that my oven didn't work. The cooking gas in my building had been shut off due to a leak. My building management seemed to be on it, so I made do with a combination of microwavables, toaster oven and Seamless. Unfortunately, weeks and months went by, calls to the city were made and permits were issued, but, even as I write this in October, gas still has not been restored to my building. My landlords eventually threw their collective hands in the air and began installing electric ranges in every apartment, so a few weeks ago I was finally able to cook for myself again.

I am so jazzed to be able to make food. Hot food! Scrambled eggs! Steak! Cookies! I started reading food blogs and cookbooks, and shopping to refill my pantry. I'm halfway through Kenji Alt-Lopez's The Food Lab, a huge 900-page hardcover that talks about the science of how food cooks. On the lighter side, I've also been reading food-themed comics like Delicious in Dungeon and Food Wars. And the latter title (which is also an anime) ended up sucking me into a YouTube hole of food videos that I've been obsessed with ever since.

You see, the very first chapter of Food Wars features the "Gotcha" Pork Roast, a bacon-wrapped potato loaf that hero Soma Yukihira makes to save his family restaurant. It looks pretty tasty, so I searched for recipes and pics online and stumbled onto Jimmy Wong and Ashley Adams' Feast of Fiction, a series that demonstrates how to make various foods seen in cartoons, video games and comics. If you ever wanted to taste Steven Universe's beloved Cookie Cat ice cream sandwiches or Kirby's super-spicy curry, there's an episode for you. One thing I really enjoy is how they also incorporate crafts into it, showing how to make paper wrappers for your Reptar chocolate bars or genuine-looking Ecto Cooler Hi-C boxes.

I've been marathoning through the episodes, which the YouTube algorithms have definitely picked up on at this point, throwing food show after food show into my suggestions. One that caught my eye was Binging with Babish. Where Feast of Fiction mostly sticks to the realm of kids' cartoons, anime and video games, Binging with Babish is a little more mainstream, covering foods from popular media like Mad Men, Seinfeld and House of Cards. Still, there's a bit of overlap -- both Babish and Feast have done their own takes on the Ultimeatum from Regular Show and Krabby Patties from SpongeBob SquarePants. But the recipes are different, and I watch the shows for the personalities. Feast of Fiction is pretty silly (and there's a cute dog), while Binging with Babish is a little more subdued. Not that Babish can't be ridiculous as well -- the Moist Maker is one of the most ridiculously complicated sandwiches I have ever seen, basically asking you to cook an entire Thanksgiving dinner.

Sadly, I still haven't done a lot of actual cooking since getting my stove back. I'm having too much fun watching other people do it instead, with the added bonus that I don't have to clean up the mess.

"IRL" is a recurring column in which the Engadget staff run down what they're buying, using, playing and streaming.

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