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The market forAI-driven personal assistants and bots will almost double in 2018, reaching more than $12 billion by 2020 with 1.6 billion active users, according to Statista. Today, pretty much every tech giant is making digital agents for their customers. Amazon’s Alexa is getting new looks and perks, Microsoft’s Cortana has just inhabited a brand new device, and Apple’s Siri is expected to move into its own speaker soon, too.
What makes personal assistants so hot right now? And why should we expect even more innovation and interest in this market?
Natural language is more intuitive than web or mobile interfaces, which usually entail some degree of a learning curve. Instead of dropdowns or checkboxes, personal assistants allow users to formulate queries naturally, by speaking or texting.
Thanks to the record low error rate in conversational speech recognition and improvement in natural language processing engines, personal assistants have already achieved a decent level of understanding of natural queries. Moreover, they’ve learned to identify their users.
For example, Amazon recently announced that Alexa is now able to recognize 10 different voices. Alexa-enabled devices are now able to provide personalized results to each user based on previously expressed preferences and behavior.
Speaking of personalization, this feature is absolutely essential for any digital product, as it offers a foolproof track to customer loyalty. However, AI assistants take this benefit to a whole new level.
First, virtual agents apply AI-powered capabilities to interpret user input and understand customer behavior. From here, they employ machine learning to refine their responses and deliver only relevant options based on consumer preferences.
Moreover, this personalization goes far beyond Alexa’s voice recognition. Personal assistants save users time by providing a limited amount of relevant options, instead of flooding users with a full range of both relevant and irrelevant results for a given search.
AI-enabled agents make an attempt to solve the paradox of choice that often leads to lower customer satisfaction and abandoned carts. Many retailers, including eBay, Walmart, and Whole Foods, bet on AI-powered virtual shopping assistants to fine-tune their offerings. TheShoppie demo bot for retail demonstrates how a digital clerk can personalize recommendations on a message platform and narrow the choices according to a user’s favorite style of jeans.
Personal assistants can access a large spectrum of data. They can provide everything from data insights that are readily available on Google to field-specific content stored in integrated databases. The integration capacity, flexibility, and self-learning ability of digital agents build part of this benefit. The current state of the market creates the other part.
Forward-looking market players such as Google and Amazon opt for collaboration instead of conspiracy, despite fierce competition. Leading companies seek to enrich their products with the benefits of their counterparts. Note: enrich, not merge.
Just this year, Amazon and Microsoft announced they are joining forces to enable access to each other’s AI assistants. Today, Alexa can ping and call Cortana for certain data, and vice versa. At the same time, a new open access kit of Skills for Cortana allows brands to scale up the agent’s functionality and reach customers on 500 million Cortana-enabled devices.
It’s the intersection of two technologies that makes the unique connectivity possible. AI-enabled assistants and innovations in the Internet of Things bring a whole new level of communication between devices, people, and companies. Considering the volume and prospects of both markets, this will only grow in the future.
According to BI Intelligence, more than 24 billion intelligent IoT devices will be installed by 2020.These installations will span transportation, utilities, connected home, health care, retail, and other areas. Many IoT systems use independent AI assistants as the point of contact with customers and devices. In fact, front-runners such as Bosch already take advantage of this opportunity. Soon we can expect to see more smart robots like Kuri and other IoT systems across industries connected to personal assistants of various kinds.
Last on the list, but certainly not least, is the very basic functionality of AI assistants. Originally built to facilitate human life by taking up routine and repetitive tasks, digital assistants already perform and even thrive in certain areas. For example,Amy, an AI-enabled assistant, improves corporate productivity by cutting through emails to automate meeting scheduling. Soon, the bot will amplify its reach and learn how to extract relevant data from Slack, Alexa, and WeChat.
This improvement is happening on a larger scale, too. Viv, a bot built by the creators of Siri, is expected to connect people, homes, and cars, and to perform multiple tasks in a smarter way than a group of single function agents.
Obviously, there’s a bigger picture for each individual benefit of digital assistants. On the one hand, the growth of voice assistants runs parallel with the progress in artificial intelligence, IoT, self-driving technology, and emerging interfaces based on text, audio, image, and haptic signals. The intelligent agent serves as a practical tool for today’s high-tech environment. It becomes indispensable to the normal functioning of the new generation of devices and emerging driverless cars, connected homes, and smart cities.
On the other hand, AI-enabled assistants serve as a mediator between humans and innovation. This technology helps people adapt to a constantly changing digital space and adopt technology in both the professional and personal areas of their lives.
Katherine Lazarevich is the cofounder and managing partner atDigiteum,a digital technology agency.
The Insider Picks team writes about stuff we think you’ll like. Business Insider has affiliate partnerships, so we get a share of the revenue from your purchase.
Many of us have had to deal with a broken screen. A moment of negligence leads to a problem you have to deal with multiple times a week, and the only thought running through your mind is “how can I get this fixed?” Repairing it yourself would be difficult (I repaired an iPhone screen last week, it’s tedious and time consuming), and finding a reservation at the Genius Grove at an Apple Store might take days. And that’sif you live near one.
Phone repair kiosks have popped up everywhere over the past few years, but they may not offer any warranty, and who knows where their parts are coming from. You’re already stuck with a broken phone, this extra stress is unnecessary, which is why you can turn to a reputablename that can get it fixed reliably and quickly: Amazon.
Amazon has offered “home services” like house cleaning and furniture assembly for a little while, but phone screen repair is now available. As with all of its home services, you get to book the time, the price is established up front, and you’re covered for damages up to $2,500 in case something goes wrong. Prices start at $79.99 for the iPhone 5/5c/5s and top out at $159.99 for an iPhone 7 Plus screen replacement.
Because this is an in-home repair, you can find someone who can fix your phone on your schedule instead of having to wait around, and stick around while your phone is getting fixed. It may seem a little weird at first, but an overwhelming majority of people who have used this service had a positive experience. Plus, the tech fixing your phone has been selected by Amazon, so you can be assured they’re reputable.
If you’re currently holding, looking at, or using a broken iPhone, you might want to give this service a shot. There are many reasons to put it off, but the last thing you need is for it to get even more broken, or to end up with a tiny shard of glass in your hand.
There were 1.7 million U.S. burglaries in 2014 alone, says Streamline Telecom Inc. And small businesses are four times more likely to be victimized than homes. Here are 10 tips to prevent burglaries at your small business.
Items that might be tempting to burglars should be placed out of harm’s way. For example, taking sunglasses out of the window at the front of a retail store works. A display placed on the front counter checkout is a much better idea.
Sean Nolan is the founder and operations director at Streamline Telecom Inc. He says some planning goes a long way to preventing burglaries.
An organized store helps to deter this kind of theft, he says.
At least taking any high risk items out of window displays at night lowers the risk.
Nolan stresses this is one of your small businesses’ most vulnerable access points. You should you have an effective alarm system for starters. Security cameras covering multiple angles is also necessary.
You may also consider posting the Operation Identification sticker on your storefront, so thieves will know that you have a security system in place, he says.
A determined burglar can usually find their way into your store. However that doesn’t mean you can’t do things to slow them down. Replacing traditional glass with a tempered variety makes a smash and grab much more difficult. Laminated glass is an excellent choice too.
Any kind of reinforced glass only breaks after several strikes which causes a lot of noise and draws attention.
It’s not always necessary to go high-tech. Putting bars on the windows at the back of your storefront discourages burglars. Having double cylinder deadbolts that need keys on either side discourages any potential criminals from hiding inside and waiting for your store to close.
Small business owners might think it’s best to put the safe in a back room out of sight. Actually, it’s better to move them to the front where any kind of suspicious after-hours activity can be seen from the street.
Bolting them to the floor helps discourage any burglars who might be casing your store. Leave as little cash as possible inside after you’ve closed up for the night.
Many small business owners keep the inside of their stores well lit to prevent burglaries at night. However, there’s another angle to preventing crime.
By keeping the parking lot and exterior well lit, your cameras will be able to capture the thieves and their license plate numbers, Nolan says.
If you keep the lawns and walkways around your business manicured and clean, you’ll discourage criminals who are casing the area. Well looked after properties tell them someone is always around.
Cutting back hedges and trees that obscure windows is another good idea so there’s no where for a potential thief to hide.
Although it might seem counter intuitive, leaving cash registers and computers in plain sight allows police to keep an eye on them when they patrol at night. Leaving cash register drawers open after you’ve closed up for the night deters burglars.
Security experts will tell you getting cameras for your property serves a twofold purpose. Not only do they act as a deterrent, but they also provide a record if your place gets burglarized.
Nolan says they aren’t just useful as after hours tools.
These cameras are also active during hours of operation, so you have a record of all employee and customer activities.
There’s a lot to think about when you’re trying to prevent burglaries at your small business. Getting some expert advice can help you find the right combinations.
For example, getting the right combination of alarms and cameras can be tricky without some professional advice. The Electronic Security Association can point you to a chapter near your small business.
House Break-In Photo via Shutterstock
This article, “10 Tips to Prevent Burglaries at Your Small Business” was first published on Small Business Trends
I work with companies around the world as a Customer Success consultant, I speak at events, and I do workshops.
I’m constantly teaching others about Customer Success.
And even more, I’m constantly learning.
My understanding of Customer Success is constantly evolving.
As I am exposed to what’s working and what’s not both at a conceptual or strategic level and the day-to-day tactical level, I am continually evaluating and refining my approach to this incredibly complex and valuable business function.
But sometimes I learn something that doesn’t change anything but the way I talk about Customer Success and it’s core principles.
Often it’s a change that exponentially improves my ability to get the point across.
And that change usually comes directly from the people I’m working with.
Here’s an example of one of those changes.
In my public workshops we usually have different groups of people from different companies sitting at their own tables (depending upon the configuration of the room).
At a recent workshop in Brazil, there was this one company that called me over during our working session because they needed some help.
The spokesperson for the gorup said: Lincoln, we have some problems.
She said that they worked with real estate agents, and they were telling me that their real estate agents don’t care about technology, are very impatient, want everything done for them, etc..
I don’t remember exactly what all the specifics were, but they kept saying these things, and I said, You’re not describing problems. You’re describing customer characteristics.
By the way, I’ve heard this for years from companies about their customers. Those customers include:
At some point, especially if they haven’t been customer-centric in the past or haven’t been deliberate in their customer acquision and growth, people in most companies will start to describe customers as problems.
Because they weren’t deliberate in their growth or because they lost focus on why they as a company exist in the market (it’s to make customers successful if you didn’t know), they become the victim of their customer.
They start saying negative things about their customers and they start looking at the things that make their customers their customers as problems.
What I said Those aren’t Problems. Those are Customers. was an interesting and different way of looking at it than they had been thinking about originally.
It was, in fact, a somewhat profound mindset shift that occurred. One that is required if you want to actually do Customer Success and get the well-documented benefits.
I want you take a step back and say, when you complain about your customers, when you bring up these issues or problems that you have, are they actually problems? Are they actually issues? Or are they just customer characteristics?
What I said to that group there in the workshop, and what I’ll say to you, is if they’re customer characteristics, you basically have two choices.
One, find a different type of customer.
But, if they’re a good fit, and this is the type of customer you want to do business with, then the other option is to figure out how to work around their unique characteristics.
You only have two choices.
Well, I guess you have a third choice, which is just continue complaining about it and try to force whatever experience you want vs. their actual Appropriate Experience (AX) on them, even though it doesn’t fit their known characteristics.
That’s going to create a Cycle of Apathy as you deliver the wrong experience, your customers are not successful, you blame them, continuing the cycle. Ultimately and probably sooner rather than later this will end up being bad for everybody,
You don’t have a problem, you have a customer.
Hopefully that’s a mindset shift that helps a little bit.
So you’ve created an influencer marketing campaign. You found an influencer with tons of followers. You crafted the perfect message. You gained lots of impressions. But you didn’t notice any real results for your brand. So what went wrong? In many cases, the answer is that the brand didn’t target the right audience.
Small Business Trends recently had the opportunity to speak with consultant Shane Barker at Influencer Marketing Days in New York City’s Times Square. Barker has been in the influencer marketing space since its early days, helping brands turn those relationships with key individuals into actual sales and results.
Barker says that a poor understanding of their target audiences and what they want to accomplish is usually what leads to less than stellar results for brands attempting to do influencer marketing campaigns.
He told Small Business Trends, People will come to me and say, ‘Hey I did an influencer marketing campaign and it wasn’t successful.’ Well most of the time when I dig deeper and I look into those campaigns the issue is they didn’t have the right influencer or they didn’t have the right message or they didn’t have the right content. And that’s a huge issue. So you’ve got to make sure all those things connect when you’re going after the influencers.
What’s the best way to connect all of those elements? Always keep your target audience in mind. Barker says that all the analytics and tools brands have access to today should make the process of choosing the right influencers and crafting messages that appeal to the followers of those influencers a fairly straightforward process.
Essentially, this concept is the same as it would be for any other type of marketing. Whether you’re working with influencers, creating online ads or developing a social media campaign, you need a strong understanding of your audience if you want your marketing to have any kind of positive impact.
Barker says, Marketing can be awesome. But if you’re going after the wrong audience, then it’s not going to be successful.
This article, “The Key to Influencer Marketing Success is Targeting the Right Audience” was first published on Small Business Trends
On the fifth anniversary of Hurricane Sandy, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio has announced a $145 million investmentin flood-resilient infrastructurefor Rockaway Beach, Queens. The goal is to protect Rockaway neighborhoods from future coastal storms, flooding, shoreline erosion, and the effects of climate change.
The funding will go toward seven projects designed to manage floodwater, the mayor’s office said in a statement on October 29. The city will contribute $25 million, while $120 million will come from theFederal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).
The projects include building newrecreational facilities and theconstruction of new parks.The city will also installraised banks andliving shorelines (grassy areas that help absorb floodwater)along the waterfronts of the Edgemere neighborhood and Rockaway Community Park. The finaldesignswill stillneed approval from FEMA before construction.
The Bayswater Park project willtake three years to complete, and the other projects willtake four to five years. There is no set timeline on when construction will start, but the city will hold a series of public meetings on the projects starting in spring 2018.
New Yorkis one of many US cities trying toguard itself from future storms. Miami, Florida, which was hit by Hurricane Irma in September, iselevating its roads, re-building its seawall, installing more pump stations, and improving its drainage systems- efforts that are part of a multimillion-dollar flood resilience planthat the city began working on in 2015.
In 2012, Hurricane Sandy ravaged the Rockaways, destroying over1.5 million cubic yards of coastlineand flooding homes in the area’s waterfront neighborhoods. In 2014, the Army Corps of Engineers replenished over3.5 million cubic yards of beach sand – enough to fill theEmpire State Buildingtwice over. But according to The New York Times, the water has already eaten away a significantamount of the new sand.Approximately 61% of Rockaway residents (or 74,800 people) still have a one-in-two chance of a major flood in their homes by 2060, according to a recentreportby theWaterfront Alliance.
“Five years later, it’s impossible to forget what happened, and it’s impossible to let down our guard because we learned this is a fight we’ll be fighting for a long time to make our city safe, to make it resilient,” de Blasio said at a press conference in Queens.
NBC Newssaid it terminated the contract of contributor and political journalistMark Halperin, the latest media outlet to cut ties with the prominent reporter in the wake of revelations he harassed and abused women during an earlier tenure at ABC News.
Halperin has been a regular contributor to shows such asMSNBC’s Morning Joe.
Halperin took to Twitter on Friday to issue a lengthy apology.
I am profoundly sorry for the pain and anguish I have caused by my past actions. I apologize sincerely to the women I have mistreated, he wrote. The world is now publicly acknowledging what so many women have long known: Men harm women in the workplace. The new awareness is, of course, a positive development. For a long time at ABC News, I was part of the problem. I acknowledge that, and I deeply regret it.
In the wake of the accusations, Halperin has been sidelined in his role as an analyst at NBC News, and HBO canceled plans to make a project based on the next Game Change book he was planning with co-author John Heilemann. Penguin Press, which was set to publish their book, about the 2016 campaign, also dropped those plans.