This is an excerpt from The Message, Smooch’s biweekly newsletter about the messaging industry, chatbots and conversational commerce. Subscribe to get the next edition delivered straight to your inbox.
Chatting with customers through messaging apps and voice assistants means surfacing a treasure trove of data businesses can use to make their customer experience more personal. But processing all that data requires automation.
This is the great paradox of conversational technology: If we want it to humanize the customer experience, we need to call in the robots.
Microsoft’s breakthrough 🤖
Earlier this month Microsoft announced that Xiaolce, its popular Chinese chatbot, had achieved what’s known among AI wonks as “full duplex.”
That means the bot can both listen and talk at the same time, mimicking real human chit-chat. The bot can even predict what the person it’s chatting with will say next.
Microsoft’s developers see this as a huge win for man and machine alike, saying it echoes “the art of conversation that people use in their daily life.”
But not everyone is cheering them on.
The uncanny valley 😱
Hollywood animators and roboticists have dreaded falling into it for years.
Studies have shown that when non-human characters look too real, it creeps people out in a visceral way.
Writing for Slate, Rachel Withers wonders whether Microsoft’s AI risks crossing the threshold of a “new, aural frontier of the uncanny valley, talking in a way that is almost but not quite right:”
“Microsoft wants to make conversation with robots more like conversation with humans, more flowing, more natural. But “less stilted” seems closer to “more eerie” to me.”
But as uncomfortable as bots make some people, others are trusting them with the most intimate aspects of their lives.
Bots for humanity 🤗
An Australian tax lawyer has created a chatbot that will help write your last will and testament for $150. Marketed as a time and money-saving device, the bot has led some to wonder why anyone would outsource such an emotional task to a non-human.
But as we’ve discussed before, people can appreciate the anonymity of sharing sensitive information with a non-sentient being. Bots don’t judge — at least not yet.
One digital artist even created a CAPTCHA that filters out humans but welcomes bots, toying with our perceptions of who the bad guys really are…
Can’t we all just get along?
Dystopian visions aside, customer-focused software makers believe the future won’t be a matter of human vs. machine but humans and machines, working together, to power amazing experiences that wouldn’t be possible otherwise.
Apple, for example, won’t allow bots on its Business Chat platform unless human agents are on hand to take over the conversation if needed.
It’s our job to create tools that help businesses make customer experience more human, even when it’s powered by non-humans.