AI Will Build Better Chatbots

September 21, 2017

For better or worse, chatbots have well and truly supplanted the traditional customer service role. Sure, one can still reach a human at many companies with persistence, but it is the rare (and appreciated!) business that assigns a real person to handle point-of-contact. Geektime ponders, “What is the Future of Chatbot Development and Artificial Intelligence?” Writer Damian Wolf surveys chatbots as they now exist, and asserts it is AI that will bridge the gap between these simple systems and ones that can realistically replicate human responses. He writes:

The future of AI bots looks promising and exciting at the same time. The limitation in regards to accessing big data can be eradicated by using AI techniques. The ultimate aim for the futuristic chatbot is to be able to interact with users as a human would. Computationally, it is a hard problem. With AI evolving every day, the chances of success are already high. The Facebook AI chatbot is already showing promises as it was able to come up with negotiation skills by creating new sentences. E-Commerce will also benefit hugely with a revolution in AI chatbots. The key here is the data  collection and utilization. Once done correctly, the data can be used to strengthen the performance of highly-efficient algorithm, which in turn, will separate the bad chatbots from the good ones. … Automation is upon us, and chatbots are leading the way. With a fully-functional chatbot, e-commerce, or even a healthcare provider can process hundreds of interactions every single minute. This will not only save them money but also enable them to understand their audience better.

In order for this vision to be realized, Wolf insists, companies must invest in machine learning infrastructure. The article is punctuated with informative links like those in the quotation above; one I’m happy to see is this guide for non-technical journalists who wish to write accurately about AI developments (also good for anyone unfamiliar with the field). See the article for more useful links, and for more on chatbots as they currently exist.

Cynthia Murrell, September 21, 2017

Google Invests Hefty Sums in Lobbying Efforts

September 19, 2017

Since Microsoft was caught flat-footed by antitrust charges in 1992, the tech industry has steadily increased its lobbying efforts. Now, The Guardian asks, “Why is Google Spending Record Sums on Lobbying Washington?” Writer Johathan Taplin describes some reasons today’s political climate prompts such spending and points out that Google is the “largest monopoly in America,” though the company does its best to downplay that trait. He also notes that Google is libertarian in nature, and staunchly advocates against regulation. Looking forward, Taplin posits:

Much of Google’s lobbying may be directed toward its future business. That will be running artificial intelligence networks that control the transportation, medical, legal and educational businesses of the future. In a speech last Saturday to the National Governor’s Conference, the tech entrepreneur Elon Musk stated: ‘AI is a rare case where I think we need to be proactive in regulation instead of reactive.’ Coming from a Silicon Valley libertarian, this was a rare admission, but Musk went on to say: ‘There certainly will be job disruption. Because what’s going to happen is robots will be able to do everything better than us … I mean all of us.’ Both Google and Facebook pushed back hard against Musk’s remarks, because they have achieved their extraordinary success by working in an unregulated business environment. But now, for the first time in their histories, the possibility of regulation may be on the horizon. Google’s response will be to spend more of its $90 bn in cash on politicians. K Street is lining up to help.

We are reminded that, for many industries, lobbying Congress has long been considered a routine cost of doing business. The tech industry is now firmly in that category and is beginning to outspend the rest. See the article for more details.

Cynthia Murrell, September 19, 2017

A Write Up about Facebook Reveals Shocking Human Weakness

September 18, 2017

What do I need with another write up about Facebook? We use the service to post links to stories in this blog, Beyond Search. My dog has an account to use when a site demands a Facebook user name and password. That’s about it. For me, Facebook is an online service which sells ads and provides useful information to some analysts and investigators. Likes, mindless uploading of images, and obsessive checking of the service. Sorry, not for a 74 year old in rural Kentucky, thank you very much.

I did read “How Facebook Tricks You Into Trusting Algorithms.”

I noted this statement, which I think is interesting:

The [Facebook] News Feed is meant to be fun, but also geared to solve one of the essential problems of modernity—our inability to sift through the ever-growing, always-looming mounds of information.

Why use Facebook instead of a service like Talkwalker? Here’s the answer:

Who better, the theory goes, to recommend what we should read and watch than our friends? Zuckerberg has boasted that the News Feed turned Facebook into a “personalized newspaper.”

Several observations:

  1. The success of Facebook is less about “friends” and more about anomie, the word I think used by Émile Durkheim to describe one aspect of “modern” life.
  2. The human mind, it seems, can form attachments to inanimate objects like Teddy Bears, animate objects like a human or dog, or to simulacra which intermediate for the user between the inanimate and the animate.
  3. Assembling large populations of “customers”, Facebook has a way to sell ads based on human actions as identified by the Facebook monitoring software.

So what?

As uncertainty spikes, the “value” of Facebook will go up. No online service is invulnerable. Ennui, competition, management missteps, or technological change can undermine even the most dominant company.

I am not sure that Facebook “tricks” anyone. The company simply responds to the social opportunity modern life presents to people in many countries.

Build a life via the gig economy? Nah, pretty tough to do.

Generate happiness via Likes? Nah, ping ponging between angst and happiness is the new normal.

Become a viral success? Nah, better chance at a Las Vegas casino for most folks?

Facebook, therefore, is something that would have to be created if the real Facebook did not exist.

Will Facebook gain more “power”? Absolutely. Human needs are forever. Likes are transient. Keep on clicking. Algorithms will do the rest.

Stephen E Arnold, September 18, 2017

Natural Language Processing for Facebook Messenger

September 15, 2017

In its continuing effort to evolve from a basic networking site to a platform for services, Facebook is making Messenger smarter. Silicon reports, “Facebook Bakes Natural Language Processing Messenger Platform 2.1.” The inclusion allows developers to create more functionality for organizations that wish to conduct chatbot-based business through Facebook Messenger itself, without having to utilize another site or app. Reporter Roland Moore-Colyer quotes Facebook’s Vivien Tong as he writes:

‘This first version can detect the following entities [within users’ messages]: hello, bye, thanks, date & time, location, amount of money, phone number, email and a URL. This is the first step in bringing NLP capabilities to all developers, enabling brands to scale their experiences on Messenger.’

The natural language processing capabilities come courtesy of Wit.aim a company Facebook acquired backing in 2015; its services have been available to developers for some time, but were not made native to the Messenger Platform until its latest iteration. Alongside in-built natural language processing, the overhauled Messenger Platform contains software development kits for developers to easily integrate payment services into Messenger and make it easier for to switch customer conversations from automated chatbots to human customer services.

Ah, yes, payment services are crucial, and being able to reach a real person is a sanity-saver (and a client-keeper.) Moore-Colyer notes this development is one in a series of advances for Messenger, and that Facebook’s embrace of smart tech extends to fighting terrorism within its platform.

Cynthia Murrell, September 15, 2017

Another Captain Obvious or Fanciful Thinking: Silicon Valley and the US Government in Conflict?

September 13, 2017

I read “There’s Blood In The Water In Silicon Valley.” The main idea is that Sillycon Valley is too big for its Air birds. The US government, riding its white horse and wearing its shining armor, will ride to the rescue of the citizens, nay, the country.

The write up tells me in “real news” tones:

The new corporate leviathans that used to be seen as bright new avatars of American innovation are increasingly portrayed as sinister new centers of unaccountable power, a transformation likely to have major consequences for the industry and for American politics.

There you go. “Leviathans.” “Sinister.” “Unaccountable.” “Power.”

Objective, dispassionate, the real world exposed.

The bad guys are Amazon, Facebook, Google, and any other Sillycon Valley outfits doing what companies do.

From my vantage point in the high-tech center of the mid South, I am not sure I see these outfits as doing anything different from what other big outfits do; for example:

  • Big pharma and its pricing tactics
  • GM and its auto engineering methods
  • Too-big-to-fail banks doing their fancy dancing.

Need I go on.

The business set up in the US is not going to be changed quickly or significantly in my opinion. There are some reasons I hold this view, no matter what “real journalism” outfits asserts. Here are some of my factoids:

  1. The US government bureaucracy does not move quickly. Certain changes in bureaucratic behavior are slowed because of the revolving door between US government and industry, government workers interest in advancing their careers via lateral arabesques and the quest for grabbing the brass ring of the SES (senior executive service)
  2. Lobbyists and influencers have an old-fashioned tin-can-and-string communication method between those who pay the lobbyists and those who make the laws and, to some extent, influence how they are interpreted in US government entities
  3. Political considerations command the attention of those within and outside the US government. There are jobs at stake, and having Amazon shut down one of its nerve centers to move to more favorable climes is a bit of a concern in many circles.

And there are other factors ranging from those who own stock in the evil Sillycon Valley companies to the desire to get one’s kid a job at an outfit like Facebook or Google.

My thought is that outfits like Equifax may warrant more attention than the Sillycon Valley bros. But “real news” outfits set the agenda, right? Maybe. Sillycon Valley is one facet of the “business as usual” methods employed through many standard industrial code sectors.

Here’s a thought? Why not suggest that outfits like Equifax are regulated by a government agency. The Amazons, Facebooks, and Googles have lots of oversight compared to the controls placed on the US credit bureaus.

Why not ride on over to Equifax and sparkle in the sun?

Stephen E Arnold, September 13, 2017

Technology Has Consequences

September 11, 2017

If this article is any indication, companies that can replace human workers with technology have a huge advantage over others; Recode reports, “Facebook Made $188,000 per Employee Last Quarter, Four Times as Much as Google.” As bad as that makes Google look in relation to their major competitor, the article has much broader implications. Writer Rani Molla tells us:

Silicon Valley companies are more efficient at making money than traditional industries, as evidenced by net income and revenue per employee in their latest quarterly filings. …

Facebook’s efficiency is partly because software products don’t require humans at as many steps of the production and distribution process as companies creating physical objects that need to be mass produced and delivered to stores or doorsteps. Of course, even jobs formerly assigned to humans are coming under the purview of robots — so more industries could see consolidation of labor. Companies like Amazon and its brick-and-mortar counterpart Walmart have employee counts that include part-time workers and are orders of magnitude bigger than their peers, which necessarily dilutes their profit and revenue per person. As far as tech companies, their contribution to the wider economy isn’t entirely clear. Productivity in the U.S. has been flat as we struggle to measure the economic output of internet technology, whose services are largely free.

Yes, we are in the midst of a major societal transition, and no one knows exactly where it will land us. If companies continue to replace humans with technology—and why wouldn’t they?—perhaps even those who have philosophical problems with a basic universal income will eventually view it as a necessary evil.

Oh, and about that four-fold advantage Facebook seems to hold over Google? Take it with this grain of salt: Facebook’s legion of contract workers is not reflected in their employee count. The Recode article reproduces the employee and revenue numbers for nine behemoth companies, from Facebook to Twitter, so see the write-up for those details.

Cynthia Murrell, September 11, 2017


Facebook Unapologetic About Spy Tool

September 6, 2017

At what point does a company or industry hold too much power? That is exactly what a recent TNW article examined. According to the site, Facebook has unleashed an early spying tool to identify and then eradicate competition. Many examples of how Facebook has done this in the past, stealing such features as Stories or upcoming Bonfire, from start-ups, are listed as proof of the growing power the social media giant possesses.

But it doesn’t stop there.

Amazon, Microsoft, Apple, and others all wield the same sort of power over smaller competitors. While the power shift isn’t revolutionary at its surface — offline businesses held the same sort of power for decades, and some still do — it’s the speed at which online companies grow, becoming ever-more-powerful, that makes it worth taking notice of.

With just a handful of companies (Google, Facebook, Apple primarily) holding so much revenue power in the global economy, it is important for us not to just gloss over these practices. What the future will hold for new companies with bold, new ideas is daunting, at the very least.

Catherine Lamsfuss, September 6, 2017

Watson IBMs Only Chance at Avoiding Extinction

September 1, 2017

IBM is facing a massive problem as stock prices continue to drop – they aren’t relevant anymore. While new companies like Amazon and Facebook, along with fellow oldies Apple and Google, continue to grow in popularity and revenue, IBM is slowly but surely falling behind.

Forbes got straight to the point, recently, telling IBM to ‘go big or go home’. Their advice?

Rometty should aggressively rebrand IBM by simply naming it after the one thing in which IBM remains a market leader – Watson. All efforts in the cloud should be geared towards not just acting as a service provider but differentiating IBM by tailoring Watson’s services to the given client’s data so it can augment their decision-making. While they’re at it they can rename their cloud effort Watson Cloud.

Continuing with Forbes analysis of IBM’s situation, at the end of the day if the average millennial, I mean American, can’t use their AI technology in their day-to-day lives, they don’t care about it. The end. For IBM to catch up with the pack they must start routing their resources and attention to expanding Watson – and quickly.

Catherine Lamsfuss, September 1, 2017

Gaze into the Search Crystal Ball

August 17, 2017

The way we consume Internet content has drastically changed.  We are no longer tethered to hulking desk top computers, instead we can browse the Web as easily as drive a car.  It goes without saying that the way we search and consume content will change.  We have already seen changes, such as more ads appearing on movie, social media, and news Web sites.  Google Answers and Google My Business are also affecting how we access content without needing to visit a Web site. Entrepreneur shares predictions for search and content in the article, “How Changes To The Way We Search Will Impact Businesses.”

While the majority of us still type our search queries, the rise of digital assistants has made vocal search gain traction.  Vocal search means that we are using natural language to ask digital assistants queries.  This is actually better for search results, because we tend to simplify questions when we talk and search engines like simple search queries.  Digital assistants also change how we interact/consume our information.  Instead of delving into the results ourselves, we rely on a third-party device to provide it to us.  It will also change how we shop, especially if Amazon or another shopping site has a digital assistant.

Users are also seeking out an “everything-in platform,” where all the services they need from payments, shopping, and even ordering a sandwich are in one application.

Facebook Instant Articles and Google AMP don’t take users too far away from the originating platform source, enabling them to return to whatever they were doing before something caught their eye. Solutions like Facebook Store integrate products for an in-platform shopping experience, tightening the gap between product discovery and purchase, while directing users away from Google’s fairly limitless shopping mall of possibilities.

Hyper-personalization might be the creepiest and have the most impact.  Search engines already gather information about us from our queries and then target us with related ads.  However, it can get even worse with beacon technology that can track and recommend services/products to us based on a store we just visited or where we are traveling too.  It will be the capitalist version of Big Brother.

Whitney Grace, August 17, 2017

Bannon Threatens Antitrust on Google and Facebook

August 15, 2017

During a time when the left and right seem further apart than ever before an odd, unexpected leak from within the white house has emerged. According to The Atlantic,

Steve Bannon, the chief strategist to President Donald Trump, believes Facebook and Google should be regulated as public utilities, according to an anonymously sourced report in The Intercept. This means they would get treated less like a book publisher and more like a telephone company. The government would shorten their leash, treating them as privately owned firms that provide an important public service.

Previously, only the far left has voiced such opinions making this questionable. Are the motives altruistic or monetary in nature? If such a move actually were to happen the way business is done at Google and Facebook would drastically change.

The article goes on to point out why and how Bannon’s musings on tech giants will never happen under the current administration, but regardless of one’s political ways, the fact that antitrust and online giants are being discussed together might signal the end of an era.

Catherine Lamsfuss, August 15, 2017

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