Why Bots and Assistants?

William Meisel, TMA Associates

Natural language processing (NLP) technology allows computers to deal with human language in text form. Speech recognition technology, by converting speech to text, allows extending that capability to voice as well as text. Speech synthesis, converting text to speech, adds the ability for a digital system to talk back in an automated conversation.

All these language technologies have reached high levels of performance in part by using artificial intelligence, particularly machine learning with deep neural networks—“deep learning”—and in part because of computer power expanding at an exponential rate. The bottom line is that these technologies have surpassed the threshold of utility and will continue getting better. Further improvement will result from a huge investment in research and from computer processing power continuing to grow.

Using human language to simply say what one wants is a major innovation in user interfaces. The user manual is simply, “Just say or type what you want.” The ability to skip a large number of annoying prompts on a customer service line or the ability to self-serve by a chatbot on a web site or mobile phone are examples of the major improvements this technology enables.

This innovation comes at a time where the last major user interface innovation—the point-and-click graphical user interface—is becoming overburdened by the increasing number of features within those applications as well as the smaller screens of smartphones. Looking for a simple answer on a web site, for example, we often find ourselves searching through many pages, each of which can seem to require endless scrolling.

Companies have a major opportunity to make their operations more efficient using language technology. Conversational technology can help customers quickly deal with issues. A automated customer call can easily be expanded to marketing and sales at a minimal cost compared to using agents.

This opportunity may also become a competitive necessity as the general personal assistants, such as Google Assistant, Amazon’s Alexa, and Apple’s Siri increasingly become like web portals, not only providing information directly, but connecting users to outside services and customer support. Companies will soon find they are expected to have a company digital assistant available through these voice portals, just as they are expected to have a web site available through a web browser.

Beyond automating conversations, NLP and speech recognition also allow analyzing unstructured text or voice data, e.g., recorded call center calls. Analytics software can use these technologies to find patterns in this data, e.g., a growth in calls on a specific issue.

The characteristics that let a human recognize a voice have also been automated as “speaker identification” or “voice biometrics.” This technology can be used for security or to identify who is speaking when there are multiple speakers in a conversation.

There are hundreds of vendors that are available to support a company that wants to develop solutions using language technology. The services range from building a full digital assistant customized to a company’s needs to providing parts of a solution, such as speech recognition technology, that can be combined by a company’s development team into a solution.

Understanding which vendors of such services meet a specific need can be quite a project. The Bots & Assistants web site is designed to help a company quickly discover which prospective vendors fit their specific needs. The site summarizes in one web page what you might spend hours trying to decipher the complex web pages of most vendors (or even more time reaching and talking with a sales team).

The free Bots & Assistants web site characterizes vendors by service, such as supporting automating customer service applications, allowing you to quickly find vendors that can meet your objectives. It goes a step further, with information on those vendors summarized on one page by an editor familiar with this area of technology, with vendors given the opportunity to correct any errors or omissions. The content is not ads, but managed by TMA Associates with strict editorial guidelines. Once you have determined which vendors you’d like to learn more about, you can use the contact information on that vendor’s page to contact them directly.

TMA Associates, the constructor of this web site, hopes that this free asset will help companies deal more quickly and effectively with the opportunity generated by the maturing of language technology.