Special Edition of This Week In Voice, recorded live at the Intelligent Assistants Conference (September 2017)

Interviews with:

Dan Miller

Livio Pugliese

Mandy Chan

Nandini Stocker

Mark Stephen Meadows

Andy Peart

Cathy Pearl

Brian Roemmele

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Transcript

Bradley Metrock: [00:00:10] Hi, and welcome to a special edition of This Week In Voice, for the Intelligent Assistants Conference, taking place in San Francisco this September 2017. Thank you to Opus Research - Dan Miller, Derek Top, Pete Headrick, Amy Stapleton, and others, who partnered with VoiceFirst.FM to allow us to come out, as a media partner of the event, and cover what was a really, really well-done conference. What follows are a number of brief interviews with speakers at the conference and some high-profile attendees at the conference. I asked these folks what was on their mind as they attended the conference, what they enjoyed seeing and hearing the most, and what they were looking forward to speaking about as they took the stage, and what trends they were seeing emerge. Enjoy.

 

Bradley Metrock: [00:01:08] We're here with Dan Miller, at the Intelligent Assistants Conference. Dan, say hello - introduce yourself.

 

Dan Miller: [00:01:12] Hi Bradley. I'm Dan Miller, just as you said. Still am! I'm lead analyst at Opus Research, and actually its founder. And we organize the Intelligent Assistant Conference. This is our sixth one, and we've done two a year. And I'd say it's basically to just provide a living history of how the concept of an intelligent assistant has evolved from something that we started covering as an automated customer support platform into just a very, very important part of the conversational commerce family.

 

Bradley Metrock: [00:01:50] Very cool. And it looks like the event has been a huge success - very well attended. Give me one highlight that stuck out to you.

 

Dan Miller: [00:01:58] There have been a couple of panels where we've exposed some of the challenges that I don't think the traditional attendee would be thinking of, because we all live in silos. So we try to make the conference break down a bunch of silos between, say, the voice people, or the customer care people. And so we can expose some of the shared challenges of just having an automated system quickly recognize someone's intent, quickly recognize who that person is, what they're trying to do, what they're entitled to do, and make it conversational.

 

Livio Pugliese: [00:02:40] I am Livio Pugliese - I am the President and CEO of Interactive Media North America, which is just starting now.

 

Bradley Metrock: [00:02:49] Very cool.

 

Livio Pugliese: [00:02:49] Yeah.

 

Bradley Metrock: [00:02:50] So we're here at the Intelligent Assistants Conference. Tell me something that you've seen, that you've enjoyed, or something that you're looking forward to this afternoon coming up.

 

Livio Pugliese: [00:03:00] Well what's very interesting is how much more mainstream the technology is becoming, and use cases as well. That's really cool.

 

Bradley Metrock: [00:03:12] Yeah, that's perfect, and that's been echoed by some of the other folks that we've interviewed as well. It is very cool to see coming into the mainstream.

 

Livio Pugliese: [00:03:20] Absolutely. So one thing that I'm a little bit perplexed about is that everything is chat, right? And there's no like voice bots, although this past, this morning, I saw some of them proposed. But yeah, these days, with the type of accuracy that we have in speech-to-text - really shouldn't be a difference.

 

Bradley Metrock: [00:03:49] Yeah, and I think we'll start to see convergence, you know, in a number of areas, including chat-with-voice and so on. Thank you for joining me.

 

Livio Pugliese: [00:03:57] You're very welcome.

 

Bradley Metrock: [00:03:59] You got it.

 

Mandy Chan: [00:04:02] I'm Mandy (Chan) - Mandy in the house again! And today, I'm here at the Intelligent Assistants Conference. I'm looking forward to hear the latest news and excitement in this voice industry, and particularly looking forward to hear from Brian.

 

Nandini Stocker: [00:04:17] I'm Nandini Stocker - I'm from "The Google," and I'm so excited to be here! Mandy's in the house! Bradley's in the house! I can see Cathy Pearl in the house! I see Susan Hura in the house! And I hear Brian Roemmele is in the house! And so, what am I looking forward to here is seeing all the amazing people, creating this amazing ecosystem that we're building.

 

Mandy Chan: [00:04:53] And we're creating the noise!

 

Nandini Stocker: [00:04:57] We're creating the noise! We're making amazing disruption, in a really, really, really great way.

 

Mark Stephen Meadows: [00:04:57] Hi, Mark Stephen Meadows here. I'm the founder and CEO of Botanic Technologies, Incorporated, a company that deploys multi-modal bots. Yeah, here to be on a panel, and spread the good word.

 

Bradley Metrock: [00:05:09] That's awesome. So tell us a little bit about the panel that you're on this afternoon.

 

Mark Stephen Meadows: [00:05:12] Yeah, it's about redefining user interface. And what we're finding with bots is that we have chatbots, which are text-oriented systems that you interact with via text and emojis. We have assistants, where you add on a voice layer, such as Alexa, Cortana, or Siri. And, what we specialize in is actually adding a third modality, which is the graphical user interface. And that usually manifests as an avatar, and turns out that there's a lot of implications that fall out of that. So we're looking at what the implications of a graphical user interface is for bots.

 

Bradley Metrock: [00:05:46] Very cool. So this conference - half-day yesterday, full day today - what did you see yesterday that you enjoyed, or what are you looking forward to most today?

 

Mark Stephen Meadows: [00:05:57] Well, one of the things after, like, I guess it's been 16 years of deploying chatbots, and nearly 20 years in the VR space, I see a market maturation, and a recognition that conversational interfaces actually provide some value...and that, as humans, conversation as you and I are doing right now is really valuable because it's a better way to convey information than a static web page or something that is less personal, really.

 

Bradley Metrock: [00:06:30] Sure.

 

Mark Stephen Meadows: [00:06:30] So I see a general market maturation. I see a lot of new faces, and I'm also really happy to see faces that have been here for the last few years, too. Makes it feel like it's a legitimate industry that's growing.

 

Andy Peart: [00:06:42] Hi, my name's Andy Peart and I look after the marketing for a company called Artificial Solutions. We focus on a form of AI that we refer to as natural language interaction - basically allows people to talk to devices, to applications, to websites in a human-like, intelligent, and conversational way. Well, I think already there's a very strong message coming out of this conference, and that is the importance of a conversational capability, rather than just a simple FAQ semantic search type of interface. And by that, I mean the ability to hold these human-like conversations, whether it's a true interaction between a person and the chatbot, virtual assistant, digital agent, whatever you want to call it.

 

Wally Brill: [00:07:32] My name is Wally Brill. For the last 20 years, I've been designing personas and voice user interfaces for enterprises around the world. I'm currently a consultant at Google working in the personality team.

 

Bradley Metrock: [00:07:48] Wally, you spoke on stage here at the Intelligent Assistants Conference on a panel called "Brands, Bots, and Conversational Commerce." Tell us a little bit about that panel.

 

Wally Brill: [00:07:58] So there is a big question out there in the world right now, of whether or not the metabots - being Google Assistant, and Alexa, and Facebook, and everybody - are going to take over the world. In other words, dis-intermediate brands from their customers. Currently in some of these interfaces, the same persona that is the front-end, like Alexa, will also currently be the persona of the brand, which is dis-intermediating the brand, right? Seriously. So what is going to be happening, I guarantee it, is that there's an opportunity for brands to develop their own personas which will be used within these interfaces, and handed off to by the metabot itself. So rather than...my hypothesis is that rather than lots and lots of different interfaces, all over the place, created by lots and lots of different little companies, I believe that the platforms will be Alexa, Google Assistant...and that on those platforms will reside the ability for the brands to communicate with their customers in their own branded persona.

 

Cathy Pearl: [00:09:19] This is Cathy Pearl - I'm the Vice-President of User Experience at Sensely. We are a healthcare company where we have a virtual assistant - a mobile app that people can talk to - and help people manage their chronic health conditions. And I'm also the author of the O'Reilly book "Designing Voice User Interfaces."

 

Bradley Metrock: [00:09:45] Very cool. You are on a panel tomorrow called "Redefining UI: Compelling and Conversational Intelligent Assistants." Tell us a little bit about that.

 

Cathy Pearl: [00:09:59] I think a lot of what we'll talk about tomorrow has to do with multi-modal nature. We see a lot of text-chat assistants out there - we also see voice-only systems, like Amazon Echo - and we'll talk a bit about what it's like to have a multi-modal kind of system, such as Sensely, where you have a visual component, such as seeing the avatar, but you also speak. And how that can be an enriching experience, and talk about when and where it's appropriate.

 

Bradley Metrock: [00:10:20] Cool. What did you enjoy today?

 

Cathy Pearl: [00:10:21] My favorite thing to see at conferences is always very specific details about particular customer deployment and their use case - I always love to hear about Edward, the Radisson Hotel bot, because I often learn about specifics on what the bot actually does, what customers can actually ask for, and actual results, and I love to hear those type of real-world situations.

 

Brian Roemmele: [00:10:41] This is Brian Roemmele - I'm happy to be here, Bradley. We finally have met. And this is one heck of a conference. It has grown and I think...very well-attended with a lot of really very wise individuals. People who have been in this industry for a very long time are at this conference, so it's a good place to be right now.

 

Bradley Metrock: [00:11:06] So you just got done being part of a panel. Tell us a little bit about that.

 

Brian Roemmele: [00:11:10] So the panel was essentially, I guess, tilted towards the future of what this technology represents. And this technology would be...well let's call it, we can call it a chatbot, we can call it a voice-first interaction. I tend to shorthand it into voice-first because it always starts with a voice in your head, anyway. And the idea is what is that going to be in the future? And how is it going to be important to you? And we kind of scratched the surface of that concept.

 

Bradley Metrock: [00:11:39] What are you either looking forward to the most, over the rest of the conference, or what have you seen that you really enjoyed?

 

Brian Roemmele: [00:11:47] I think what's really fascinating is the case studies. We've seen FedEx and International Hotels and a few others generate real case studies of utilizing artificial intelligence and intelligent agents to interact with humans. And they're not doing it primarily as a way to save money and to cut staff. They're doing it to enhance their brand, and to build a more unified relationship with the audience. And that is phenomenal. And I think what Dan has done here with the Intelligent Assistant Conference has highlighted these things that we take for granted. FedEx is already showing that they're utilizing this advanced technology in a cohesive way across multiple modalities where it's handed off an almost an exquisite symphony, and it's very inspiring. I'm looking forward to seeing more case studies. I think next year and the other conferences we'll start seeing more of this.

 

Bradley Metrock: [00:12:38] Thanks again to the team at Opus Research for putting on a fantastic event with the Intelligent Assistants Conference this September 2017, and for partnering with VoiceFirst.FM in such a meaningful way. Thank you for listening to this special edition of This Week In Voice, and until next time. 

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