The IoT talks back, chatbots gain voice interface
A chatbot with a voice interface is a reliable ‘virtual teammate’ that can help users control software and receive voice notifications. The wider product implications for all IoT users are exciting. Image credit: SoftServe

The IoT talks back, chatbots gain voice interface

Initially developed to serve the needs of users visiting online e-commerce sites, automated computerized preprogrammed ‘chat’ software has given rise to the term ‘chatbot’, ‘chatterbot’ or ‘talkbot’. Now, Internet of Things (IoT) devices from industrial turbine sensors to connected toasters are featuring chatbots in order for us to interact with them, but how much better will it be when we can use human voice to talk back? The future is here now…

Hi! I’m here to help!

Many people find chatbots infuriating, plain and simple. You are happily browsing away on your favourite e-commerce site, your online banking portal or your utility provider’s website and suddenly you get that familiar helpful pop up…

“Hi! I’m here to help, would you like to chat to an assistant?”

Except it’s not an assistant i.e. it is a piece of software designed to respond to ‘most-likely’ question scenarios and provide the user with something that comes close to a ‘live FAQ’ at best. Chat interfaces are of course sometimes manned and woman’ed by real humans in call centres, often located in poorer nations… but the computerized chatbot is our point of focus here.

IoT chatbots

In the IoT sphere we know that chatbots can be applied to financial systems, physical equipment and other business entities that require both customer and employee interaction. New developments see us use IoT chatbots to question everything from the staff parking facility, to the lunch canteen to get information delivered back, in context, about operations at any one moment.

It could be “are there any parking spaces left” and the IoT parking camera monitors deliver the answer… or it could be “is the staff restaurant doing fish today” and so on.

“We tend to think about chatbots as customer support tools, but that will change in 2017 and beyond. As the bot landscape expands and bots improve to provide contextual recommendations, we’ll see bots used to positively alter employee behavior not just improve customer communications,” asserts ServiceNow chief strategy officer Dave Wright.

Chatty productivity-bots

ServiceNow’s wright contends that chatbots will now serve as digital virtual assistants to help workers reach their highest productivity.

ServiceNow's Wright, "A Chatbot may point out to an employee that their company’s incident response time is 30 percent slower than a financial competitor and then tell the worker what they need to do to improve that response time."
ServiceNow’s Wright, “A chatbot may tell an employee that their company’s incident response time is 30 percent slower than a competitor & then tell the worker what they need to do to improve that response time.”

Based on ever-increasing data inputs (many of them coming from wearables and other IoT-level devices), bots will evaluate how workers’ time is spent, make recommendations to improve productivity and quality and suggest best practices through the use of bot-driven benchmarking.

“Using algorithms, bots will guide positive changes to our behavior because they will be able to leverage individual contextualization,” said Wright.

Initial interaction with bots has been via keyboard input, but in a world of touch, speech and image recognition, a new higher level of interface interfacing is inevitable.

A scoop of SoftServe

As an example of the way this technology is going, digital software development firm SoftServe has  developed the Alexa skill, VoiceMyBot, a chatbot that goes beyond the usual popular features of the more sophisticated chatbots like file and screen sharing, video calling and team chats.

SoftServe’s VoiceMyBot Alexa skill is a chatbot with a voice interface enabling access to all Atlassian HipChat Marketplace listings from a single place, using just voice commands and no code integrations. HipChat itself is is a web service for internal/private chat and instant messaging.

To be clear, this is a tool for software programmers, not for users — but the application of chatbot technology here shows (and reflects ServiceNow’s comments) how this kind of intelligent automation is now going to feature in more of the products we use on the desktop and at the IoT level, which are often the same place now anyway.

Virtual teammates

“A chatbot with a voice interface is a reliable ‘virtual teammate’ that can help users build and deploy source code or provide voice notifications,” explained Michael Verlanov, SoftServe product manager and one of the project’s creators. “Once Alexa is set up as an external Bluetooth speaker and notification settings for important alerts are configured via VoiceMyBot and system settings, it will initiate a conversation when there’s an important notification that needs attention.”

In addition, SoftServe reminds us that (unlike other personal assistant apps) the VoiceMyBot skill allows users to configure the type of information/updates they would like to receive, from any extension, without additional integration. Plus it’s open source, so custom integrations can also be added.

Voice-enabled chatbots of this kind now have the potential to give us hands-free configuration controls for IoT devices and the wider systems that they populate. Tasks like installation, integration, configuration and management could become a lot easier to perform.

Fonejacker future

Let’s hope that chatbots and voice-enabled chatbots develop well, otherwise we’re all heading for a chatbot future like this link here.