What is an Intelligent Assistant and a bot?

I almost felt bad for Siri when I said “Hey Siri, open Alexa”. Siri dutifully opened my Alexa app. When I tried “Hey Siri, OK Google” there wasn’t an app to open – but a joke to be made. Intelligent assistants, often called bots, are rising in popularity and available on a wide range of services and channels. Many think of bots as a chat in Messenger, or SIRI on your phone and mac. I personally tend to use ‘bot’ about the hardcoded, non-autonomous agents, and intelligent agent when there’s some form of autonomy. We’re moving from a traditional b2b to bot2bot, and the race is on for the intelligent agent that will ‘rule the bots’. What I think a lot of people don’t see is that Intelligent agents isn’t a product as much as it’s a new interface – an invisible, omnipresent interface. And who knows, with the rapid development in A.I., they might soon be perceived as “omnipotent” as well.

What is an Intelligent Assistant?
When talking about I.A. I find it helpful to explain what I think of as the key parts, the building blocks:

Communicate: HW & channels to communicate through.

Understand: NLP to understand your words and intent, giving the bot autonomy. Some call this the brain, I like to call it the language brain. 

Connect: apps, websites and bots to connect with to perform your intent.

Remember, Learn and anticipate: This is the brain in addition to the NLP language brain. A user backend to remember you across services and channels, gather data and then apply machine learning tools and analytics to anticipate and predict your needs. Hopefully without getting creepy about it. 

Personality: To connect with the you, and differentiate the assistant from other assistants. You might even end up preferring the funny I.A. before the smartest one. 

From a consumer perspective, bots are great. Through my work I’ve seen users having “app fatigue”. The same way Google and targeted search/platform sites helped people navigate the web, we need higher-level bots to help us navigate apps and web services. We already see this happening, with bots talking with bots. You have the travel bot, that talks to a flight bot, a hotel bot and a sightseeing bot. These bots are talking to different web engines and sites. You, as a consumer only have to deal with one of them – they are truly an assistant.

Still, people seem to be easily disappointed in their bots. Bots still need to be connected, and this sets a limitation. You can’t get SIRI or Alexa to do a skill set they haven’t enabled yet, and for SIRI the skill provider might not be allowed to add it either. In addition, the players going for the meta-I.A. faces several challenges, such as the mix of individual and family/household accounts and preferences. You don’t want Alexa to read you calendar or email out loud in a family setting, but you do want it to if you’re in the home office. Netflix might recommend you shows you’d enjoy (although they seem to be very certain you’ll like all their shows..), but what to do if you’re a family or a group of friends sitting down together?

I think we might see these challenges solved in the near future. To win the bot, you need to deliver what the user want. To win the user, you need to be connected to the best services – and have access to the users interface/hardware.