Words by Adam Cheyer: CTO of Viv Labs, Samsung Electronics
Conversational Assistants have been widely deployed on phones and other devices since 2011. Today, people send billions of requests each week, asking to “play a song”, “send a message”, “set a reminder”, “check my calendar”, and even “do you love me?” However, as popular and useful as they’ve become, Assistants are still not important at the level of the web or the mobile app ecosystem. This is starting to change though. The major players are innovating along some important dimensions that will change the landscape for Assistants in the coming year.
Here are some predictions to watch for in the Assistant space in 2019.
1. Users will have one Assistant rather than 50,000 assistants
With most of the popular Assistant platforms, you can make requests to a limited set of built-in services such as the examples above. But when you try to access a service from a third-party developer, it’s a whole different ball game — you need to prefix your request with the service providers name and then use their specific command set. “Assistant, ask <app 7> to do <command 5>”. For a user, it’s hard to remember tens of thousands of different provider names and command sets, so this model doesn’t scale well. As a result, traffic to third-party services is minimal, and users remain limited mostly to the few built-in services that come with the Assistant.
In 2019, Assistant experiences will move towards a more seamless, integrated interface, where you can ask for what you want in the way you want, and interact more naturally with services provided by third parties. As a user, I want one Assistant who can do 50,000 things, not 50,000 different Assistants who each have their own very different experience, memories, and so forth. As this prediction comes to fruition, users will have a much more efficient, customizable experience, and service providers will have a much more scalable channel to receive relevant service requests.
2. Developer tools and platforms will be far more powerful
When a developer adds services to an AI Assistant, there is a huge disparity between the tools you get to use if you’re working inside one of the big Assistant companies and if you’re a third party developer. Third parties only have access to simple web-based tools that provide basic natural language parsing, brittle dialogue response templates, and not much else.
In 2019, developers will finally have access to sophisticated platforms and tools that provide much more functionality and richness than what they have to work with today. In addition to rich natural language understanding, platforms will offer capabilities such as machine learning for user preferences, compositional and contextual dialogue management, adaptable multi-device and multi-lingual experiences, and the most advanced of them will feature AI-created code generation, allowing developers to more quickly handle a wide array of use cases with less code to write and maintain.
3. Assistants move from just “knowing” to “doing”
Most Assistants in use today are primarily used for retrieving information or answering questions.
In 2019, we will see Assistants begin to be able to not only answer questions, but also perform tasks on the user’s behalf. Through integrated payment systems and Internet standards such as OAuth, Assistants will be able to complete transactions end-to-end, without ever leaving the Assistant experience. Assistants will now be able to order tickets, send flowers, make reservations, and much more, all through a conversational multi-device experience, without ever needing to punch out to an app or a website.
4. Assistants will transform the car experience
Assistants are used in the car primarily to send text messages, make phone calls, play music, and to start navigation to desired destinations.
As Assistant ecosystems open up and start to offer more powerful development tools, more natural interactions, and provide in-experience transactional capabilities, we anticipate the developers will flock to offer commuters all sorts of useful and important functionality through hands and eyes-free interaction experiences. More than one billion hours are spent by commuters each year in the US alone, and while it’s not safe to use websites or apps to perform functions while driving, an Assistant interface can bring more interesting functionality within reach of car users.
In 2019, keep an eye out for developments along these dimensions, signalling a move for the Assistant from being a simple utility to becoming a full-fledged user interface paradigm as important as the Web or Mobile.