Conversation is everything! :: Antal Kuthy

Reflecting to the previous stories of the series, this part examines why do we believe that conversation builds trusts and creates commitment.

Recently I had the privilege to order beer in front of a large audience twice in a row. First time at a regional IBM client conference organized in Budapest and second time at one of the events of the Brain Bar Budapest tech festival, a couple days later. The motto of the festival was Human vs. Machines. The beer was pretty good but that is not the point. The interesting part of the story was that the waiter I ordered from was not a human. I had a natural language conversation with a mobile app built on Artificial Intelligence. We developed this app as part of a research project called Mizu at my company E-Group using AI and speech technology components of leading global software-vendors.
The conversation started something like this:

– Welcome to the Old Goat! Our intelligence is artificial, but our beer is real. What can we serve you tonight?

– Can I have a beer please?

– Great decision! We have Guinness, Edelweiss and Strongbow…

And it went on. The app could not only take orders, but also handle the payment based purely on verbal dialogue, as well. Even when I ordered a crate of beer, the answer with a cheerful tone was: “Sorry we do not serve alcoholics here.”

It took a good week for us to build this demo application, but I started to get involved with the topic much earlier. I wrote my thesis in the early 90’s about speech recognition under the supervision of Géza Németh from the Telecommunication and Media Informatics Department of the Budapest University of Technology, and that time I had a chance to work with leading scientists and researchers in the Watson European speech technology research center of IBM in Heidelberg, Germany. The experiences I had that time inspired me to establish my own company back in 1993 and since that time we have always been keeping up with the latest innovation trends and building transaction and security solutions. Many of the algorithms used today were known that time already, but we had to wait 25 years to have the affordable natural language processing technology commercially available in almost every area of life.

I am convinced, that chatbots and other speech technology based applications are going to boom in the near future. We can find a long list of use cases on from retail to banking. Experts say that easy to use chatting platforms are going to replace traditional graphic user interfaces and chatbots within messaging services will replace apps and websites. In addition, Jake Tyler argues that “conversations via text are powerful in their simplicity — and we are all extremely familiar with this format. Of the top 10 apps used in the world, all are social in nature and six are mostly instant messaging. As of the end of 2015 there are more active users on messaging services than on social media; and this excludes SMS and email, which are both essentially IM. We don’t need to learn how to use another app or website, messaging is something we all already understand.”

This new area of the internet in China is already part of the daily life. The platform called Weixin (WeChat) has more than 650 million active users who can reach 10 million businesses. Services from ordering taxis through booking a doctor’s appointment to transferring money are accessible in a convenient way. I have my own personal experience about the rapid expansion of this technology since I recently spent 7 years in Hong Kong close to Shenzhen which is the Silicon Valley (or rather bay) of China. In my opinion success of the approach in China is due to the traditional mercantile mentality: “Let us talk! Tell me what you need! As soon as I understand your needs I will find you a solution and we can make business.”. Conversation builds trusts and creates commitment.
We are working on similar solutions in Europe partially based on experiences from the US and China. Imagine for instance what changes we could make in the way public administration works with the help of AI technologies like advanced natural language processing and machine learning. We could forget the endless forms asking the same questions all the time. We could say goodbye to the super complicated electronic forms and the million page process descriptions that are written in a special language and that no one really likes. Instead we could simply tell what we need with our own words, or initiate a chat that is probably even more convenient for generation Y and Z, and the background system could collect all data and information that is already available and would come back with clarifying questions only if it is really necessary. Public administration would serve us instead of forcing us to learn all the rules and procedures they created. We would be assisted instead of assisting the bureaucratic procedures.
The decade behind us was about mobile apps becoming the primary interface between man and machine. From now on natural human language is taking over the role of a primary communication channel. Mobile used to be everything. From now on conversation is everything.


Antal Kuthy
Chief Executive Officer