Lessons from AI Industry Experts: RE•WORK Virtual Assistant Summit 2017

February 1, 2017

Last week, I headed to the east coast to represent Abe at the second annual RE•WORK Virtual Assistant Summit in San Francisco. The summit focused on deep learning algorithms, methods, and trends from some of the world’s leading technology innovators.

Over 40 speakers took the stage to share their thoughts and expertise on the artificial intelligence revolution, bots and overcoming innovation challenges. The summit consisted of brainstorming sessions, workshops, and product demos of technology that’s shaping the future.

The Building Blocks of Empathy and Making Users Fall in Love

Speakers at the summit emphasized conversational context as well as the importance of building trust and delivering tangible value to users. One of the most inspiring talks came from Technical Director of Pixar Animation Studios Alonso Martinez, who emphasized the need for users to emotionally connect with their bots. He encouraged developers to learn from movies when creating the backstory for their bot and offered a few tips:

  • Make them admirable by giving them qualities that others admire.
  • Make them desirable by showing the bot wants something.
  • Make them incomplete by giving users the ability to witness their growth.
  • Make them struggle or suffer by letting users see their challenges.
  • Make them change by allowing the bot to adapt based on challenges and growth.
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A Virtual Personal Finance Specialist for the 99%

On day two of the event, I gave a talk called A Virtual Personal Finance Specialist for the 99%. I explored the impact that personified messaging products can have on a person’s day-to-day life and the vision that drives us at Abe. Our mission is to build a cognitive intelligence that thinks and acts to optimize the financial health of our users.

I focused on what it means for intelligent systems to think first and act second and offered a solution to improve financial health through a virtual personal finance specialist. That solution is Abe, a personal finance bot that can figure out where you stand financially and how to get you where you want to be. Abe uses a dialogue generation engine called Conversate, which takes an unprecedented approach to computer-generated conversational dialogue. With Conversate, Abe is able to understand and respond to a wider array of complex user inputs, which is key to ensuring a smooth conversational experience.

Check out the slides from my talk below.

 

The Challenges of Building a Virtual Assistant

The summit taught me that if we want users to dive into an experience with our product, we have to build a conversational bot that has a narrow focus. Dennis Mortensen, the CEO and co-founder of x.ai, discussed how bots can help users quickly and efficiently with the following three tips:

  • Natural Language Understanding (NLU): Users should be able to communicate using natural language.
  • Logic: The bot needs to be able to understand natural logic and figure out what the user is asking it to do.
  • Natural Language Generation (NLG): The AI’s response needs to appear seamless and as natural as possible.

Bot Companies Building Intelligent Conversational Software

Abe wasn’t the only virtual assistant in the room; there were several other bot companies that came out to showcase their latest innovations. These companies explored the applications of deep learning in healthcare, travel, and family, and two debuted physical robots.

  • Joy: An emotionally aware bot that helps track and improve your mental health
  • Dasbot.io: Actionable bot analytics that increase user engagement and acquisition
  • Mezi: A personal travel assistant
  • NXROBO: A personalized family robot that uses natural language interaction, body movement, and active perception
  • Jibo: A social robot for the home that experiences the world and reacts with thoughtful movements and responses

Although each of these bots has a different function, they all shared a common goal with Abe: using machine learning to improve their users’ quality of life.

The RE•WORK Virtual Assistant Summit brought together some of the world’s best thought leaders in AI and deep learning. I was surrounded by folks who care deeply about this industry and was grateful for the chance to show others what we’ve created at Abe. The talks showed just how dedicated the AI community is to making bots that people want to build relationships with and that can help solve real-world problems.

I look forward to next year’s summit!

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