Companies are spending millions of dollars to create bots because, let’s face it, intelligent conversational interfaces are definitely the future of search and the way that consumers will interact with companies. But I have this nagging suspicion, one that I keep inquiring about when talking to leaders in the space, that most of this will be a waste of money because, in my opinion, at the end of the day all of us as consumers will only talk with one intelligent assistant through which we do everything. Or maybe it is a handful of intelligent assistants, but it is not 1,000.
People much smarter than me keep insisting that this is not going to be the case and they are probably right. They point to search today, or to the Apple App store, where there is a platform and then everyone else builds based on their expertise and unique offering and where in some areas companies build on top of that (i.e. Kayak which then searches thousands of travel sites) and on and on.
But think about it for a minute. Won’t voice be vastly different? Why am I going to sit on my couch and ask Alexa to search for flights to Hawaii and then have her/him (it) hand me off to the United Airlines bot to complete the transaction? I don’t see that use case being the way this game ends up playing out. That is looking at conversational AI interfaces within the old paradigm of web search where a search engine like Google limits itself, in most instances, to simply finding and then handing the person conducting the search to the website that offers the product or service.
I hope that my personal virtual assistant (or whatever we are going to call the next gen Alexa’s and Siri’s) will be my primary interface to everything that I want to do. It will be my personal “Chief of Staff”. It will know my preferences and will start there for any task I am trying to complete (i..e travel, dinner reservations, setting up a doctors appointment, scheduling a meeting, etc.). I will be able to ask it to search for flights to Hawaii leaving on January 2nd for 10 days and it will know that the only flights I am interested in are those that are not red eyes, which have aisle seats, Southwest over Alaska, etc. It will also know that by “Hawaii” I mean “Maui”. It will search available flights, filter according to my preferences and then tell me what my options are. I will ask it questions about certain flights that it will know already because it knew enough about me to find the information proactively without being asked to, or when it doesn’t know it will go back to the airline and find what I am looking for. Once I have all of the information and have have made a decision I will then tell my virtual assistant to book the flight. Following this to its logical conclusion I am having trouble imagining more than a few scenarios where I will ever actually talk to the airline bot directly.
Do you remember the scene in Minority Report where Tom Cruise goes into the mall and as he walks around he is being bombarded by “bots” trying to pitch him on their products? That looks horrible. No consumer wants this but that is the world that brands are building towards.