Conversational Web, AI & a Trillion Dollar Bubble

The conversational Web, AI and a trillion-dollar bubble.

At MoNage, we explored the future of the conversational web and the convergence of computing, cryptocurrency, AI, Communications, messaging and their underlying ecosystems.  I spoke about trillion dollar opportunities and my concerns that tomorrow’s conversational web may well be compromised by today’s failure to fully encompass diverse tech teams.

#MoNage Keith Spiro Barbara Clarke photo

Joining me on stage was Barbara Clarke, an economist and co-founder of The Impact Seat. Together we read Letters to MoNage – a real time compilation of comments coming out of the multi day presentations and together we represented a clear visual cue of diversity in front of a mostly male audience.

I challenged developers, corporate leaders and brand advisors to deeply consider the work of Eli Pariser who grew up in Maine and delivered an impressive TED talk called The Filter Bubble.

In a book of the same name, he outlined a growing concern for the web isolating us rather than bringing us together. He spoke of the filter bubble as intellectual isolation. That the personalization of Google search and personalized Facebook, Twitter and other “community” feeds, end up “showing us what they think we want to see and not what we need to see.”

He spoke about algorithmic editors needing to have human ethics embedded and not just using a relevance index to feed us what we like but also to include exposure to what challenges us or what will even make us uncomfortable. There is a need to seek differences and not just settle for reinforcement of your favorite point of view.  Most importantly he stressed a need to see future online interactions built transparent enough so we can see the rules of what gets through and what does not get through to our personalized feed. If not, then we risk making these bubbles of isolation even more pronounced than they are today.

So that is why I challenge the developer community to test for what I call trillion-dollar missing links. Because, in every process they create, they need to examine, more closely, potential points of failure in:

  • Efficiencies –which might really stand for creating exclusions
  • Personalization – which David Meerman Scott calls the “Enemy of Serendipity”
  • Experiential – if a wide human range of expectations and cultural nuances are ignored
  • Hidden Bias – goes well beyond the word – diversity – (a word which causes some eyes to glaze over) Hidden Bias is easily found in areas of age, ethnic and gender exclusion or absence (from the building process).

actually that 1 T monage twitter captureHere are just two simple and visible examples of concern:

  1. Latinx. Nielsen- a company that prides itself on reaching inside consumers and homes -points to the projected Latinx buying power of nearly $1.5 Trillion. Annually. With 86% of that community saying the woman is the primary shopper, here are clear gender and ethnic differences to consider.  Do you understand their cultural norms?  They are not on Linked In. They have begun to create their own social media/social business platforms. Do you understand why? I hope teams look into it. This disconnected bubble is worth $1.5 Trillion a year.
  2. Baby Boomers. Let me speak as a member of a different Trillion Dollar bubble. Baby Boomers.  Each year, for the next thirty years, we are looking at the potential transfer of wealth of nearly $1 Trillion dollars. One Trillion Dollars a year.  Look closely at our experiential web & AI interactions.  There’s a backlash happening. Note the mentions of Facebook Timeouts and a more shrill shouting rather than dialog taking place nearly everywhere.  We are all quite capable of breaking relationships with our banks and the airlines we use. The old fashioned hooks that held us to a business relationship are gone. I want to have an enjoyable user experience. I will find it – if not with your business – than somewhere else.

How many of us have had enough of struggling to insure accuracy of what we write in text messages on our smaller handheld devices? There’s something about autocomplete that leaves me wanting. Predictive completion is not my friend. Chatbots that don’t understand my nuances annoy me enough to find another vendor.  I find this transactional drag on communications totally unacceptable. And so, the word trust begins to grow as a decision point for my spend. If I don’t trust you or your system, I will not be your customer. Ever. My future personal chatbot will duly note that and may block you no differently than today’s email spam. Advertisers take note.

So, here’s a very simplified approach to fixing problems that exist and to pre-emptively prevent future gaffs. Just look around you. Look at your project team, look at the consultants that you hired and the people running surveys for you. If you look around and everyone looks like you and the individuals delivering the message and answers you’ve asked for looks just like you, You. Have. A. Problem.  You don’t need any more bubble based positive reinforcement, you need to be concerned about the people who are not in the room with you.

Don’t let an unpleasant user experience result in the customer or human intermediary shutting down on one another.

Diverse teams deliver better results.

Diverse leadership insures more points of view are heard and acted upon.

Diversity should be obvious.

Your project/business/appeal either is or is not.

There is no maybe.

Keith Spiro Boston & Maine Connection news column photo

This post is an expansion on the article originally appearing in The Cryer.

 

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Dr. Chatbot or AI meets the Botniks

I recently read an article about the National Health Service in England beginning a collaboration with a digital media company to build a Chatbot that can interface with patients.

One of the biggest issues in the British Healthcare System is how long a patient waits to see a doctor and in parallel with that wait, how much of their time doctors spend diagnosing and dealing with relatively simple repetitive issues and basic information transfer.

With artificial intelligence and a chat bot that can take care of doing the routine and mundane tasks of a first-line general practitioner, the physician is freed up to concentrate on the more challenging medical issues her patients face.  Welcome Dr. Chatbot.

a version of a Dr. Chatbot circa 2012

a version of a Dr./Chatbot circa 2012.

Here are a few of issues this quasi medical newcomer must address:

  1. Human like – Studies have shown a higher utilization rate of the tools when there is a more human-centric response. Terminals at a human’s height are most effective. Think of the banking industry deployment of digital assistants in branch.
  2. User Experience – combining big data synthesis and human comfort to hone in quickly on the real problem underlying how the patient presents.
  3. Compliance – it is a well known fact that clinical trials have a high, 50% or higher, fail rate because of failure to “follow as directed.”  This leads to the need for human interaction and a true human intervener to ask the questions listen to your concerns and yes, touch your hand to improve compliance.

The Hawthorne effect is a well documented phenomenon of improved results because the subject knows they are being watched. There is a new startup company called Hawthorne Effect looking to do just that. They are providing  human interveners with the hopes of providing better and more accurate results in clinical trials.

The premise is a sound one in that trusted human professionals go out to patients who are in need of real time real personal interaction  and focused follow up. The patient  may need a reason to see the trial through completion or to “take as directed” the actions or medications to improve efficacy as well as accuracy.

The potential for widespread health breakthroughs with the Dr. Chatbot concept comes from the underlying technologies of machine learning and artificial intelligence.  Newer studies are showing that there are predictors of disease that show up statistically before any one human doctor is likely to reach the diagnosis. The ability to provide an alert to a physician and do the high end mathematical permutations that lead to better and earlier interventions holds tremendous potential. But it will be the user/patient experience that determines compliance. I hope the tech people creating these machine driven interfaces pay particular attention to the human experience (or user experience -as the new discipline is called). Jeff Pulver has called for a move away from the term Chatbot to the more hip, creative and human like Botnik.

Indeed, we need to think of them as Jeff does, ““Botniks are creative, artistic, & rebellious just like the Beatniks” The time is right. There is a shift in thinking from what might work to how elegantly we can begin to deploy the tools. We have entered an era of intense focus on AI, machine learning and robotics and the best winners in this emerging category will be those that enhance the human experience.

Full disclosure: I am a cheerleader for and investor in Hawthorne Effect. I am betting that the human creative can direct the machine and not the other way around.

My Three Words: 2017 Focus Filtered Fluid #my3words

Focus, Filtered & Fluid.  My Three Words for 2017

Way back in 2006, when I was struggling to hold it all together in a corporate world heading off the rails, a guy by the name of Chris Brogan quit making New Year’s resolutions. Instead, he chose three words he would use as a guiding principle for the year. I didn’t know it back then but within just a couple of years our paths from Maine would begin to cross regularly in Boston. Back in that first year of new actions, the words he chose were: ASK. DO. SHARE.

Like a beacon, they prompted him throughout the year to Ask more questions and ask both to help as well as ask for help. He got good at sharing what he learned and in that sharing our paths crossed and I’ve replaced resolutions with actions ever since.

In 2016, my words were:

  • Community
  • Communications
  • Commerce

And it made a huge difference in what I accomplished. But the real time web cuts no slack. Were you caught off guard by the 2016 political outcomes? Everything and nothing surprised me about the presidential elections. Talking heads got it wrong. Strategists missed the mark. Alliances now shift loosely and widely, driven in large part by spontaneous combustion on social media.  It is just so clear that we now live in a real time world that adjusts and disseminates new information rapidly. “Expecting the unexpected” doesn’t even begin to explain what is happening.

So for 2017, as we roll into uncharted territory, don’t agonize over deep analysis. Just “DO IT.” Stay nimble and your business can thrive.  My three words to guide me through 2017 are appropriate for the times and the challenges ahead:

  • FOCUS
  • FILTERED
  • FLUID

Focus – Yes, we each still need a plan of where we are going and what we want to accomplish in a year.  Having a written plan allows you to check in regularly and see if you are on target. And, in today’s world – when your target has moved – you get to readjust how to approach your new day.

Filtered – I have too often gone to the internet to search for something specific and found those shiny objects and distractions that divert my attention and send me down rabbit holes from which I emerge dazed, sometimes hours later. Have you ever gone onto Facebook or searched on Google for one thing and found yourself unexpectedly somewhere else? Fight back by organizing your time. Let the filters of search do their job and just bookmark those other things for later.

Fluid – I am learning to recognize that Google and Facebook are not my friend. They are advertising engines designed to hook me and sell me something. There is no such thing as free. Time is our most valuable possession.  When I come up against a time zapper, I am going to flow around it like water and keep going. This will not be easy. But instead of screaming into the phone “operator, operator, get me a human,” or pounding “0” a few times, I’ve learned to recognize that I am dealing with a computer algorithm not a person. I’ve learned to hang up – call the customer service line and ask- in a calm voice – for help from the human that answers in real time.

wc_my3words-bots-dsc_0003_keithspirophotoWe will hear lots about Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Chat Bots in the coming months. They are taking over. No – actually – they have taken over. Most of us just haven’t thought about it that way yet. Think speech recognition and that lovely voice that offers to help you with your account; those friendly helpers with names like Siri (Apple), Julie (Amtrak) and Alexa (Amazon) that stand sentinel between you and a real person. Those are the entry points to chat bots. They save time for the business at the other end. They do repetitive tasks and they are going to eliminate millions and I do mean millions of jobs. More than will be created by new technologies. We can’t stop this process change and so, for that reason, I am going to be fluid – and simply work around the obstacles that are thrown at me – in a creative way (because we have that over bots)  and I will keep going.

I hope you do the same. Let’s make 2017 a great year!

(originally published in The CRYER January 1, 2017)