In 2017, AI was everywhere. It seemed like every company added “AI” to their software whether it truly leveraged artificial intelligence or not. So let’s start with a definition of AI. Merriam-Webster defines it as 1) a branch of computer science dealing with the simulation of intelligent behavior in computers, and 2) the capability of a machine to imitate intelligent human behavior. Put through that basic filter, I believe we will see a big “AI Shakeout” in 2018.
2018 will expose the imposters as businesses will take a very critical look at anything calling itself AI. Companies will ask whether the technology they’re buying will truly improve human capabilities and could potentially augment the human workforce or not. If it can’t do those things, what’s the point? If it can do those things, then it can help companies deliver real, compelling business results.
While some view the future of AI with fear, I have spent much of the past year encouraging everyone to look at AI with a more open and positive mind. Consumers expect smarter forms of transaction and interaction with businesses, and AI offers a way for businesses to deliver faster and more personalized experiences.
Here are some of the ways I expect AI to shake out in 2018:
- Multiple AI systems will co-exist in the enterprise – 7.ai, Google, IBM Watson, MSFT, Salesforce Einstein. Each will serve a specific purpose, and they don’t necessarily need to interact with each other to be successful, but watch for some of these key players to form strategic partnerships. Think of it as each company developing its own superhero, each with unique powers. Expect powerful alliances to emerge in this space (think the Avengers) - superheroes with different capabilities coming together to create a better world.
- IVR will be replaced by AI-Powered Speech – AI technology can go beyond simply recognizing what someone is saying. It can actually carry on conversations the way a human would. Furthermore, that same “brain” can carry on conversations whether it’s via text or over the phone. That’s why we’ll increasingly see large companies ditch their IVR systems in favor of AI-powered speech. Callers to conversational systems will have the option to move to chat, or be able to use their smartphone to choose things from a list. These multimodal experiences will become common as they can better serve today’s digitally-engaged millennials.
- AI-powered chatbots will gain enterprise momentum – We’ll see a huge jump in large enterprises deploying virtual agents. These VAs will solve many issues, but will work hand in hand with humans. Human agents will become far more effective because they will be augmented with automated sequences. For example, AI can guide consumers through the automated steps that are monotonous for a human agent.
- User profiles become easier to build – large enterprises will discover new ways to use AI to develop user profiles that help them determine with great accuracy who the consumer is and how to treat them. This will become the way that companies authenticate users for everything but financial transactions. In the future, as Blockchain technology takes hold, that opens up even more possibilities.
- Blended AI adoption - AI is helping companies analyze huge amount of data in order to predict customer intent and therefore create personalized solutions. I have mentioned in my earlier articles and reiterating it that the way forward is blended AI- a collaboration between human agents and AI to augment what human agents are doing. This will be a collaborative journey, more like Ironman and Jarvis working together than Terminator-like robots taking over.
- Conversations, not channels, become the focus - We all have friends with whom we don’t talk for weeks or months but when we do, we pick up exactly where we left off. This is what customer and brand interactions should be like. We will soon see large companies taking this approach to e-commerce and customer service, meaning that consumers will be able to pick up a conversation exactly where they left off. No need to start over. Therefore, customer interactions will have to focus on those conversations and not on channels in which they take place, and context will need to transfer between channels.
- Machine Learning in Customer Conversations - Machine learning will be integrated into all forms of automated conversations in order to improve with time. Computers will learn to interpret many forms of organic, unstructured human expression more easily and better understand what the consumer wants. Unlike most of today’s systems, your interactions will grow smarter over time.
I walk into the New Year with great hope for the year ahead. 2018 will be a golden year for AI and customer experience, especially after the great shakeout happens.
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