Within the next decade, the customer experience in obtaining goods and services will be dramatically altered by the emergence of bots that communicate with each other, leaving nothing for us humans to do in the process other than letting our personal bots know what it is we want.
That’s the vision being championed by Adam Fingerman, chief experience officer and cofounder of ArcTouch, a mobile app designer and developer in San Francisco. In an interview earlier this week, I had the opportunity to discuss this bot-to-bot phenomenon with Fingerman, and I opened the conversation by asking him what the difference is between today’s chat bot, and the business bot he envisions in the coming bot-to-bot world. He said the main difference is that today, there’s a person involved:
All digital interactions right now are very person-driven: I download an app; or I go to a website; or I go into Facebook Messenger and I initiate a conversation with a chatbot; or I ask my Alexa to do something for me. But in the future, we believe that we'll all have bots working on our behalf who we give ambiguous instructions to, and then they initiate the interactions with the other bots. So people will still be part of the equation, but they won’t necessarily be the focal point in all of the transactions.
Fingerman went on to explain that our personal bots will be the future evolution of the likes of Amazon’s Alexa, Apple’s Siri and Google Assistant:
Already today, a lot of these kindergarten-level bots have a tremendous amount of context around who you are, where you are, and what's going on around you. Think of your phone: It has a dozen different sensors on it that can sense everything from your location to your body metrics — your heart rate and things like that. It knows if you're lying down or standing up, and how fast you're moving. Those are the explicit sensors, but if you've signed in to something like your Google account, there's information about your contacts, your calendar, your mail — there’s quite a bit of synthesis that can go on. There's already a lot of information that we give permission to our devices to have access to, and they'll use that information, hopefully, in positive and proactive ways.
The role of marketing will inevitably change in a bot-to-bot world, Fingerman added:
We have marketers today; in the future, marketing is going to have to focus more on the whole product experience. It used to be that marketing sat on the periphery of an organization — the product was built, and plans were made, and then marketing was told "OK, now go market it." But marketing becomes central to the whole process, because they really have the pulse of the customer at their fingertips. If you make a great product and focus on the whole product experience, everything takes care of itself, in my mind. You get positive reviews, you don't have pricing pressure, you can ensure that you are not commoditized.
Finally, I asked Fingerman what problems have to be solved before bot-to-bot goes mainstream. He said more industries need to more actively adopt structured data:
Structured data has become very popular in the past few years as a way to describe information on websites for non-humans to consume. We look at a website and we see the words and the pictures and everything, but really behind the scenes, what people who run websites want is for Google and other search engines to really see and understand that website quickly. So the industry adopted structured data, which is like a taxonomy to describe people and places and things and products and services, and it's caught on pretty well in the last few years. There's a Web organization called Schema.org that’s [working on shared vocabularies], but it's very basic information right now. It's not really rich enough to allow any one business to differentiate itself from any other business. If you were a car manufacturer, sure, you could add structured data to your website that says "We make cars," but it doesn't really go into the nuances that a bot would need to know to make an educated buying decision, such as the fuel efficiency or the decibel level of the interior cabin — lots and lots of information you could add behind the scenes for a bot to consume. I think proactive industries will take this idea of structured data and expand it so that bots can know what they need to know about a particular brand.
A contributing writer on IT management and career topics with IT Business Edge since 2009, Don Tennant began his technology journalism career in 1990 in Hong Kong, where he served as editor of the Hong Kong edition of Computerworld. After returning to the U.S. in 2000, he became Editor in Chief of the U.S. edition of Computerworld, and later assumed the editorial directorship of Computerworld and InfoWorld. Don was presented with the 2007 Timothy White Award for Editorial Integrity by American Business Media, and he is a recipient of the Jesse H. Neal National Business Journalism Award for editorial excellence in news coverage. Follow him on Twitter @dontennant.