Feb

Pros and cons of automation

Automation drives forward the economy. It allows businesses to scale and service large groups of customers. Automation first appeared in traditional industries, such as cotton production in England in 18th century or car conveyors in the US in early 20th century. The automation replaced physical labor.

With the invention of computers automated systems began to replace intellectual labour such as math calculations. Most of the software applications we use today can be described as automation. Online payments processing, online tickets purchasing, tax returns software, computer games, search engines, and endless other programs are all examples of software automation system.

As a next step we are now aiming at automating human decision making processing and high-level intellectual activities, historically considered to be sole domain of humans.

 

One interesting aspect of automation is lesser quality of service compared to manual service.

This is to be expected. If we gain in quantity we lose in quality.The gain in quantity is what automation is about - it allows to reach out to a large number of customers. Manual product or service can reach out to individuals only. The price we pay for the ability to deliver product or provide service en masse is the drop in quality.

 

Sometimes automation is an obvious choice. This is when the gain, the scalability, hugely outweighs the costs, lower quality. Search engine is a popular successful example. In other cases, the advantage in not so obvious. Online travel booking offers fast service without leaving the comforts of the home, but it does not often deliver the best option, such as finding the cheapest flight, and therefore many people still use ‘manual’ travel agents.

 

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Why Keywords Do Not Cut It on Social Search

Most of the online search is keywords-based. Same in social domain, a vast number of analytical tools, networking platforms and mobile apps use keyword-based technologies as well.

There is a difference, of course, between traditional internet search and social search. The former finds websites. The latter finds conversations, messages, posts. Keyword-based internet search is doing a decent job for us for over 20 years. Keyword-based social search is not doing a decent job at all.

Consider a basic example: finding on Twitter who is interested in buying jeans. We can start by typing ‘jeans’ but that brings up too much noise. Maybe ‘need jeans’? Less noise but then we  people who use expressions like ‘looking for jeans’ or ‘want jeans’ or shopping for jeans’. Not to mention those who use ‘denim’, or brand names. So we have to run multiple searches or create a complex search string using logical AND and OR and hope it works. Neither option is simple, or convenient, and certainly not efficient.

The above example highlights the major flaw with keyword search - it does not capture the meaning of social conversations, and therefore cannot be a reliable source of information about conversations.

It does not provide too much of correct information. And it does provide lots of incorrect information. But the biggest problem is that it has extremely limited potential for improvement.  

So as long as we stick with keyword-based social search the results are destined to be limited.

Why, then, we stick with keyword-based search in social search? Simply because there is no good alternative. Until recently, that is.  

The advanced semantic technologies capable of capturing the meaning, or intent, of conversations are now offering an exciting alternative.

I will discuss these technologies on my next blog.

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AI unmasked: Have chatbots failed?

It is becoming increasingly popular to say that chatbots have failed and are overhyped.

While it is true that in many cases expectations from chatbots significantly exceed the results on the ground, the anticipation of chatbots’ demise are somewhat premature. 

One of the main problems for chatbots is that the market is inundated with low quality solution providers who deliver low quality results. This happened because conversational AI seems to have low entry barriers. Unlike other recent technological darlings such as space technology or renewable energy, conversational AI is purely software and therefore does not require vast sums of initial investment. 

What this approach is missing however,  is that conversational AI, in addition to being a software, also requires an accurate understanding of how language works. And there is a limited number of people in the world that do have such understanding.

When conversational AI is delivered by AI experts who understand the way human language works, the results are good and convincing, just as how you would expect them to be.

Suffering from unsatisfactory product quality is a common problem for many new and emerging industries.  The rules of the market dictate that most of the low quality players will eventually disappear. Poorly created chatbots will therefore not be around for too long.

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