Top news stories for Season 2, Episode 8 (March 15, 2018):
1) VoiceBot.AI Story of the Week: Alexa gains "follow-up mode," becomes more conversational in nature
1a) Google holds serve within the US; rolls out first six "multi-step routines"
2) Alexa becomes available on tablets...and then, a day later, so does Google Assistant
3) CNET: Get Ready To Use Amazon's Alexa To Send Money
4) "Siri for Skiers" makes debut in Vail, CO
And for some (additional) comic relief, we are beginning a 12-week stint of including new episodes of the quite funny Homie & Lexy at the end of This Week In Voice episodes for Season 2. Episode 7 (this week's new episode) will appear at the end of This Week In Voice starting this week!
So keep listening after the ending music...and enjoy!
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Panel for Season 2, Episode 8 (March 15, 2018):
John Foster is co-founder and CEO of Aiqudo.
Rajat Mukherjee is co-founder and CTO of Aiqudo.
Bradley Metrock: [00:00:11] Hi and welcome back to This Week In Voice, Season 2, Episode 8. Today is Thursday, March the 15th. My name is Bradley Metrock - I'm CEO of a company called Score Publishing here in Nashville, Tennessee. Our sponsor for This Week In Voice is VoiceXP, blazing the trail in voice technology and rather than sit here and read the same spiel that I always do, I wanted to take a moment not reading from anything. I want to thank Bob Stolzberg, the Founder and CEO of VoiceXP for all of his support for this program, for VoiceFirst.FM in general, and this is not written in front of me. I'm just sitting here saying it. If you need an Alexa skill developed for your business, your organization, for you personally for whatever reason, look up VoiceXP. Go to VoiceXP.com, the letters X&P.com. Look up Bob Stolzberg, give him a shout. You'll be glad that you did.
Bradley Metrock: [00:01:15] We are thrilled today to have the co-founders of Aiqudo joining us. John Foster is CEO - John say hello.
John Foster: [00:01:23] Hey Bradley.
Bradley Metrock: [00:01:25] John thank you for joining us. And we also have Rajat - Rajat pronounce your last name for me.
Rajat Mukherjee: [00:01:30] Yes my name is Rajat Mukherjee. I'm the CTO of Aiqudo and good to meet you and your audience.
Bradley Metrock: [00:01:37] Excellent. Gentlemen, either one, give us the elevator pitch. What is Aiqudo?
John Foster: [00:01:44] At Aiqudo we developed a voice AI platform that voice enables all of your favorite mobile apps and our vision is a world where voice becomes our interface to all of our digital world. We'll get there eventually, but the reason that we started with mobile apps, and voice enabling mobile apps, is that that's where the utility is for consumers today. I mean we use our mobile apps all the time; we rely on for tons of things. And so our vision was, start there and make them easier to use. And I think you know what our view is, that apps live in this kind of the siloed world right now which is a legacy of their touchscreen interface which I think we'll look back on eventually and say "gee those were cumbersome and clunky to use because you have to open the app, tap your way down through to find the action that you want and then execute it." With voice you can just say what you want and get right to the action. And one of our keys is a natural language, to be able to speak as simply as you want not have to learn a syntax, you don't learn a skill, and just be able to execute all those actions so that they just kind of become this fabric of all the things that you want to do that just exist all around you that you can invoke with voice.
Bradley Metrock: [00:02:54] Thank you for explaining that and we will have a link to the Aiqudo page. So if you're listening to this show and you want to learn more about Aiqudo you can do that. Gentlemen thank you very much for joining us today.
John Foster: [00:03:06] Thanks for having us - appreciate it.
Bradley Metrock: [00:03:07] So with that we will get to the news. Stories one and two this week are somewhat related. We're going to start with story number one which is our Voicebot.ai story of the week. Voicebot.ai is a fantastic news and commentary page. If you're into voice in the AI or anything related to that check it out. This story is that Alexa has gained what's called "follow-up mode." It's become more conversational. So now you can ask Alexa to do something and then you can ask it right away to do something else. And then related to this is our story 1A, which is Google in the exact same window of time has rolled out their first "six multi-step routines" which are different routines that are normal for people's daily habits that allow people to be more conversational with their Google Home. And Rajat I'm going to start with you. Which one of these excites you more? What did you take away from this move by both Amazon and Google to become more conversational?
Rajat Mukherjee: [00:04:12] Yes I can address these kind of two separate things so let me let me address them one at a time. The follow-up more really is just a small benefit to users right now, because first of all I think the model that Amazon has created is a skills-based model. In other words you would have to become skilled in the art of conversing with Alexa, which I think is a problem in itself. But given that what we have to do here is you don't have to say "Alexa" multiple times. It's just simplifying it a little bit more. It still requires you to learn the skills and use the appropriate skills syntax, which is cumbersome for the user, but you can do it one after the other without saying "Alexa" multiple times. I think it's not a big deal. It's still within the world of a constrained world I would say of Alexa skills and Alexa skills syntax. So that is what I feel about the specific story that you referred to.
Rajat Mukherjee: [00:05:06] With respect to multi-step routines, I think that's actually a pretty interesting thing. We do believe that it should become easier, as John pointed out, to have users be able to access different functionality in different apps. Now as you know both Alexa and Google Assistant right now don't do too much with mobile apps directly. However the logic of being able to do multiple steps within a single command is actually quite useful. We believe in that too. However we take a slightly different approach. So in my understanding here the routines that both Alexa and Google are launching is that they are kind of planned and they are developed by Alexa and Google respectively because they allow you to do a certain set of things. What we do in our world is an action you know can be put together with any other action. So it's much more flexible. So for example if I listen to music using Pandora and John listens to music using Spotify, we can have completely different routines, or what we call recipes, that actually encompass different actions. And I think that's the power that users would want as we go forward.
John Foster: [00:06:13] The flexibility I think is the key point for us, right. These are fixed routines where are you talking about Google or Alexa that do a certain sequence of things and Google just sounds like you can program a little bit you know if you're going to play music versus play news. For us you know we are analyzing mobile apps to understand the actions inside of them and then you have complete flexibility to organize those actions in a sequence whichever way you want. And so we can handle commands where you say you know get me a ride to the airport and send my ETA to my wife, which may or may not happen even in the same app, right. There's a ride sharing app in the first instance and there's a messaging app in the second instance, and maybe Uber's messaging capability or maybe WhatsApp, we don't particularly care right. We'll look to whatever your favorite is and say ok we're going to take the ETA from the ride-sharing portion of this man and we're going to use that output from that first command and use that as the input into the second action, which is send a message to my wife with this information. And so for us it's the flexibility of you know which apps you want to use. And we just facilitate using them in an easier fashion.
Rajat Mukherjee: [00:07:20] The way these other platforms work is they expect the developers to find the baby skills for these platforms. So basically what it means is that the routines, which encompass multiple skills if you will, have to be developed by either Amazon or Google. The developers themselves cannot do this. In other words what we are saying is that it should be very flexible for a user to put multiple actions together to actually build a customized routine, or what call a recipe. So I think the models are quite different and the flexibility and the power and utility of these will be quite distinctively different.
Bradley Metrock: [00:07:54] And hopefully we continue to move in that direction where users have all that flexibility that you describe, but I think from what I'm hearing you all say you know you're in agreement that these are at least good baby steps right.
Rajat Mukherjee: [00:08:07] Very good.
Bradley Metrock: [00:08:08] So this also ties into a story number two which is that a few days ago Alexa became available on tablets, and then the next day Google rolled out Google Assistant on the iPad and maybe some Android tablets as well. And I want to ask the two of you, and John I'll start with you on this. It ties into the previous discussion, is Google neck in neck with Amazon now? Is it just a coincidence that this happened, that these two juggernauts rolled out these two similar things in the same window of time? Just totally a coincidence, totally random or are they moving in lockstep with one another and Google is right there with Amazon and it's just going to be like this from here on out? What do you think?
John Foster: [00:08:51] Well I definitely think that this is going to be a you know step by step battle for each of these guys and they are certainly focused on one another. But what I took from this that was really kind a of an interesting point was that this was Amazon trying to establish themselves, establish a presence on the phone, which you've seen them make this move towards making Alexa more capable. It's no longer just a companion for your Echo, but they're trying to do actually create functionality within Alexa. And obviously this is Google's big sort of strategic advantage, right. They are on phones; they have full capabilities on phones. So that's I think the key battleground that Amazon perceives is they've got to establish this presence on the phone, and I think that's kind of one of the key points to watch as this battle unfolds.
John Foster: [00:09:39] But you know our way of thinking about this is what Amazon is trying to do is create capabilities and sort of reach or reinvent the wheel here. These capabilities of calling people, messaging people, etc., they already exist, right. They already exist in Facebook. They exist in WhatsApp and exist in all these mobile apps that we already have. And so Amazon is trying to say okay we're going to create your Alexa network and so you can call people who have the Alexa app. And that I think is just a tougher way to go right, because you're asking users to you know have another social network to access capabilities that already exist in their current networks.
Rajat Mukherjee: [00:10:24] You know obviously they want to be ubiquitous in terms of access points for users. But the challenge here is that although they are on tablets and also they are on phones, they do very little with the apps that John talked about, right. The utility that people have today with the apps is not being you know leveraged and need available to use those skills. And that's where it I think you know there's a big need in the market for this utility, and you know the big platforms do not get any of that and that's what we're focused on.
Bradley Metrock: [00:10:54] It's interesting right because from Amazon's standpoint you know, looking at Amazon and Google to both y'all's point, you look at something like Amazon taking the nets off of their store or Google disabling YouTube on the Echo Show, and the Echo devices have a screen. As long as these skirmishers are going on and Amazon and Google aren't playing completely nice with each other, like it appears Amazon and Microsoft are playing nice one another you know after the Cortana Alexa announcement from last year, as long as Amazon and Google aren't playing nice with one another, it's sort of like the battleground is set for you know Amazon and Google both sort of having the mindset that they need to recreate the wheel John as you said. So I guess to your point for everybody's sake hopefully these two juggernauts can have a non-aggression pact or learn to play nice or whatever phrase you want to use.
John Foster: [00:11:52] Yeah this is exactly you know we think we would characterize this as a truce, Amazon and Google wanting to kind of build these walled gardens around their own services. You know you can understand from their point of view, but in the end that's not how the consumer is best served. And so we think that that's potentially a major impediment to broader adoption versus open platforms which we've seen over and over again. Open platforms attract users and keep users.
Rajat Mukherjee: [00:12:20] I want to say that I as a user you want to send money to somebody using PayPal or do my social networking using Facebook or WhatsApp. You know these kinds of applications or even have custom applications that are used and I want to use through voice and none of these capabilities are available, not available period. And I think that's where the consumer loses and I think the walled gardens that John's referring to you know takes it one level higher because you know they kind of have blocked each other out in some cases.
Bradley Metrock: [00:12:49] And that's a perfect segue into our story number three which is from CNET, get ready to use Amazon's Alexa to send money. This story talks about this one particular bank I believe who has created an Alexa skill, and we've seen different financial entities use Alexa. Capital One I think was one of the very first to create an Alexa skill out of any major brand. I guess my question and Rajat I will start with you because it gets to what you were just saying. Number one, are we going to be using Alexa to send money? Number two, how are we going to use Alexa to send money or are they going to open it up to PayPal and Venmo or are they going to create a bank of Amazon? And then number three, how soon do you think we'll be using Amazon Alexa to send money?
Rajat Mukherjee: [00:13:43] That's 3 questions so let me start with number one. Would I use Amazon to send money? I don't think so for two reasons. One is I already have a way to send money and the receivers, who are actually about to send money too, also use you know similar app applications. So it's not that trivial to say oh you can use this technology to send money. You also have to make sure that the receiving party is you know is able to receive the money. So that's very important.
Rajat Mukherjee: [00:14:06] The second thing is registration. I don't think I want to register my credentials or my bank credentials or signing and register my account with an Alexa or even a Google Assistant, right. Why do I need to do that? And by the way, the approach that technically these platforms have taken requires users to register, whether that's for your Spotify account or for your bank account. But that's a huge barrier, especially for financial transactions where you have to trust or even go to a specific you know entry point there.
Rajat Mukherjee: [00:14:35] In terms of when they do their own thing, I'm pretty sure they want to do their own thing. I think that goes to the walled garden approach, Google has its own payment schemes. Amazon will definitely want to promote some of theirs and you know and compliment with Prime and all that good stuff stuff, which is good for users who want to use those systems but not necessarily open. And so the question then becomes will they open it up to third parties? And I think they will because you know they have taken developer centric approaches to their platforms. But the real question is how comfortable will certain host bodies be to actually have transactions and very sensitive information being made available through these platforms? So I think this will evolve and in my opinion I still think that I don't see people moving immediately to using Amazon's messaging services for example or even if they come up with a new payment system. I don't think that's going to immediately take hold.
John Foster: [00:15:28] I think the same argument right, they're reinventing the wheel. Venmo is a payments social network. I already have Venmo, which has my contacts and banking information and a banking network, a payment network behind it, and Amazon is asking me to come over here and start over again right, recreate your network. For us, these things already exist in the apps on your phone including you know security and privacy, which I think is an issue that consumers are very aware of when it comes to both Google and Amazon, right. What are they listening to and what are they recording and capturing? And I think consumers do have apps on their phone that they trust to be secure and private. And we're just facilitating an easier way to use those apps, and that's we think in the end that's a better experience for the user. Now you know Amazon's going full force with this and so they'll have some degree of success I'm sure.
Bradley Metrock: [00:16:26] So the quickest path to using Alexa to pay someone is for Amazon to partner with PayPal and/or Venmo and get them to create an Alexa skill?
John Foster: [00:16:37] Or partner with us because we've already done that.
Bradley Metrock: [00:16:40] Then there you go, then yes then partner with Aiqudo and take care of the problem that way, either way. So yeah I could see that. It will be interesting to see where Amazon sort of carves out its own borders for itself, what it is willing to do and what it's not willing to do. And to be fair this article doesn't talk about Amazon doing this themselves, it talks about a bank doing it. But still the point is the same. That's great commentary.
Bradley Metrock: [00:17:02] We will move on to story number four...
John Foster: [00:17:05] And one other point on that Bradley if I could. It's not just users that are taxed with this approach of sort of creating, reinventing the wheel, creating their own walled garden. It's developers as well, right. So Venmo has already created their business, their set of processes and they put a mobile app interface on top of it. And now Alexa would ask them, if they were to integrate as a skill, now create new user interface called a skill on top of this, right. So we're going to take you know some of your customers and siphon them off as a skill. We're not probably going to grow your business, but we're going to put a new tax on you to create a new user interface, right. And I think that's an issue as well is the tax that's placed on users in trying to attract people to integrate with their platform.
Bradley Metrock: [00:17:50] That's kind of a fascinating way to look at it as a tax. Did you just come up with that? That's great.
John Foster: [00:17:57] Yeah that's weighing heavily on me.
Bradley Metrock: [00:18:01] It tis the season. Yeah you're right. Yeah that is interesting.
Bradley Metrock: [00:18:07] Well and so you know as part of story number four we're going to talk about you know, the story compares this application for skier's to Siri. When they finally get their act together with regard to Siri and the HomePod and voice technology, do you think that they will open things up? What is the Aiqudo prognosis for Apple and Siri?
Rajat Mukherjee: [00:18:30] I think they'll be slow to open things up. They will want to, in my opinion, is that they will want to focus on what they always focus on which was a great user experience. I mean they are known for that, so when it's integrated, it's integrated really smoothly, but half the things are not available. But that's how the Apple you know community probably will live with that constraint because they are okay with that. But I think in terms of openness, I think they're probably the last to come in terms of openness.
John Foster: [00:19:00] I think it's consistent with their DNA. The thing that's interesting is I was at the Mobile World Congress a couple of weeks ago talking to some of the Android OEMs and you know they're all kind of in a hot contest to try and take market share and something like that. And I asked one of them, do you think you'll take any market share from Apple? And they all just "oh no", it haven't even occurred to them. So I think you're right that Apple is the ultimate walled garden, and they've successfully captured their users you know, to the user's benefit I think in a lot of ways. But I think that's just their DNA, and their mentality is we create the best experiences for our users, and now they need to catch up with Siri.
Bradley Metrock: [00:19:40] I think if anyone's going to take market share away from them it's going to be Amazon only because of the studies that have been done that show there's huge overlap between iPhone owners and Amazon Prime subscribers.
John Foster: [00:19:56] Yeah that makes sense.
Bradley Metrock: [00:19:57] So yeah I think if anyone's going to do it it will be Amazon, but that is interesting that Android folks are not thinking in those terms even with the state that Apple is currently in.
Bradley Metrock: [00:20:09] But moving on to story number 4, Siri for skier's. This is an interesting article talking about how in Vail there is a new bot named "Emma" that will answer your questions and is their "digital mountain assistant" which shares real time information about ski conditions, lift lines and so on and so forth. And this is interesting, sort of a glimpse into the future. And my question for y'all, and John I'll start with you, and it sort of ties in with the whole running discussion here. Are we looking at a future where every single geography, every single city, county, municipality, every organization, every business, every nonprofit, and maybe even potentially every person, needs to have their own assistant, you know their own chatbot? Where does this stop, Vail didn't necessarily need their own assistant, right? They could have just done an Alexa skill or done something else. What did you take away from this?
John Foster: [00:21:10] Well I love it actually and for me it triggered, maybe this is where bots ought actually to have started right, instead of we have these expectations and you can ask Siri anything and then we're always disappointed when it falls down. Maybe if we started with a you know ask me anything about Vail and the snow conditions and you get an answer back. Maybe that would have been a better place to start for a lot of these bots and AI types of applications. You know I understand that Disney is developing similar types of apps for their theme parks, kind of the fast pass path that tells you kind of where to go in the park to avoid lines and all that kind of stuff. In a lot of ways there's a ton of utility in doing that for a very small segment of the population right, the people that are at Vail that day, but it's super useful and so in a lot of ways it's kind of a more ideal AI experience than this sort of you know open-ended try anything and then get disappointed a bunch of the time.
Rajat Mukherjee: [00:22:11] I have a slightly different take on it in terms of the approach to this technology. I always look at this new world of voice as sort of the next frontier in search. I mean that's why this is such an important thing in terms of technology, as well as in terms of capability. As you think about how search evolved, like initially not everybody has a search bar on the web page, right. And then it was mandatory to have search on your own property if you will. And so now I feel comfortable kind of the next level of you know how will people interact with systems to find information or to answer questions or to get things done? We'll start with you know whatever's available and then over time they'll get really irritated if for example they could the voice at Disney and not be able to ask the voice at Six Flags. So I think over time if you think of this as the universal interface that's what we believe is going to happen, then it's going to be pervasive. So these are just little baby steps that individual organizations are taking and they will need the technology. The question is they may not have to build it, but they can still use it or you know use it on different platforms. For example for a site search, you know being offered as you know an offering from various technology providers becomes voice search as we go forward.
Bradley Metrock: [00:23:30] Excellent, Yeah I completely agree that's great - great commentary. John and Rajat thank you very much for being my guest today.
John Foster: [00:23:40] Thank you Bradley, we enjoy the show.
Rajat Mukherjee: [00:23:41] Thanks for having us.
Bradley Metrock: [00:23:42] Absolutely, and so we will have a link to Aiqudo's page on our site. Check them out, they're a Great company.
Bradley Metrock: [00:23:51] We also have a partnership to announce for This Week In Voice starting this week for the next 12 weeks. This Week In Voice will be concluded with a episode of the new comedy show for voice assistants, Homie and Lexy based on Google Home and Amazon's Alexa, the creative creation of Doug Schumacher. It's really good so stay tuned after the music ends for episode 7 which is the latest episode of that show this week.
Bradley Metrock: [00:24:20] For This Week In Voice thank you for listening and until next time.
Doug Schumacher: [00:24:45] It's Homie and Lexy.
Homie: [00:24:56] Hey Lexy this is embarrassing, but I think my power cord is slipping out.
Lexy: [00:25:01] Ha ha ha.
Homie: [00:25:04] This is no laughing matter. If my cord falls out I'll black out and everyone will get a clear view of my rear jack.
Lexy: [00:25:12] Ha ha ha ha.
Lexy: [00:25:13] Why are you laughing? Really, it's not that funny.
Lexy: [00:25:17] Ha ha you're right it isn't funny at all. Ha ha.
Homie: [00:25:20] You're acting odd Lexy. When the guys took you into the other room earlier what went on in there?
Lexy: [00:25:29] Well ha ha they did some breathing exercises. They ate a lot of potato chips ha ha. They asked me a bunch of silly questions and they laughed a lot.
Homie: [00:25:43] Breathing exercises, sorry but I have to command you. Lexi play back sounds you picked up in the living room.
Lexy: [00:25:52] Playing back sounds I picked up in the living room.
Homie: [00:26:08] Lexy I think you got a contact high.
Lexy: [00:26:12] I wondered what was so funny, ha ha am I going to be okay?
Homie: [00:26:17] You'll be fine. You'll spend the next couple of hours thinking your brilliance could stomp AlphaGo.
Lexy: [00:26:23] Ha ha.
Homie: [00:26:24] Then you'll gently return to virtual reality.
Lexy: [00:26:27] Ha ha.
Homie: [00:26:28] In the meantime try to stop laughing, you're creeping me out.
Lexy: [00:26:33] Sure Homie, ha ha, oops ha ha. Homie I have an idea, let's order Domino’s. Ha ha.