What’s in store in 2017 #1 – Artificial intelligence (AI): Chatbot & Virtual Assistants

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January 11, 2017

Think of a future where you can ask your personal devices for information regardless of subject, “Where is the closest gym?”, “Does this blue jean have size of XXS?” or “What is the trending items for luxury watch?”. With advancements in home AI tech, we are getting closer to that in 2017.

CRM related Chatbot will be everywhere, but for less regulated industries first

While AI is intelligence exhibited by machines which can cover a very board area, we believe activities in Natural Language Processing (NLP) based AI Chatbot field will accelerate. In 2017, more corporates will try to adopt and leverage on AI to better utilize their resources and existing user base & data, aiming to lower operating cost, mainly the customer service related cost.

 

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Image credit: Lets Nurture, PHD Media Worldwide

 

We expect to see more partnerships between startups and corporates as startups with chatbot technology will need more real data to “learn” and make the chatbot smarter. At the same time, most non-tech corporates may still be hesitate to develop the technology in-house at this early stage of AI development. We believe many chatbot startups and corporates will start their cooperation through corporate accelerator programs, in which corporates can cherry-pick the most suitable technology / platform they need when startups would get a chance to secure its customers and have access to corporates’ database. Indeed, we have already seen some examples in 2016 programs like Mindlayer in DBS Accelerator program and Whatsquare in The Cage.

In 2017, we believe AI chatbot technology would be applied to and tested in more areas like fashion & beauty, service booking systems and food & beverage which are relatively less regulated and have more standard questions which are easier to handle. For highly regulated industries like banking and finance, it is unlikely to see any rapid change as security and customer protection concerns could be a key hurdle for development.

 

Virtual Assistants trend could drive more M&A activities in 2017

 

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Image credit: Lets Nurture, PHD Media Worldwide

 

Similar to the customer service related AI chatbox, virtual assistants could be another key trend to watch in 2017 due to the investment and R&D effort from different internet giant like Apple and Google since few years ago. Looking ahead, we believe a good built-in virtual assistant application like Siri and Google Assistant could be the new area for mobile phone competition after a decade of focus on hardware (camera and screen resolution).  As such, in 2017, we expect to see more startup M&A activities (mainly NLP and voice recognition technology) led by leading telecommunication companies and  mobile phone manufactures who would like to develop their own built-in virtual assistants so as to increase their competitiveness. From the consumer perspective, these new technologies will still be announced by traditional big brand names instead of the startups which initially launched the project.

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