The marketing and communications business has been abuzz with headlines about AI-powered innovation. There is hardly a conference, talk or article where the words artificial intelligence, chatbots and virtual assistants aren’t used with great enthusiasm. This excitement (and apprehension) about AI has transcended the world of tech and marketing, and is now a part of the mainstream discourse, as indicated by the success of a TV drama like Humans that gives us a glimpse into a future which seems tantalisingly (and worryingly) close!

Services and devices powered by Artificial Intelligence is such promising territory, that the world’s biggest tech companies are aggressively competing to bring them to the mainstream and integrate AIinto people’s daily lives. Whoever succeeds in doing this will own the next technological epoch and so the stakes are very high.

Google has been investing in Artificial Intelligence for some years now. It famously acquired DeepMind Technologies, a leading AI company in 2014 and hasn’t looked back since. Google is exploring applicability of AI in many different ways (A.I. Experiments) and messaging is one key area. Last year, Google launched its messaging app, Allo that is powered by Google Assistant. The app learns how we communicate with our friends, and suggests responses to conversations in keeping with our personal style. It is meant to understand the context of our conversations and help with useful suggestions and services. The app is still new and learning, but another challenge is its small share of the messaging market which is dominated by Facebook and WhatsApp. So Google is taking another route to embed its AI technology in people’s lives. Google Assistant will now come pre-loaded on a number of smartphone devices. In doing so, Google is fighting back against Amazon Alexa and its dominance of the Voice AI market.

Amazon Alexa powers the smart speaker Amazon Echo and has been one of the biggest success stories of 2016. Alexa is a voice assistant that consumers can speak to and they have loved it. Sales have soared, making Alexa-powered devices the top selling products across all categories on Amazon.com during the 2016 holiday season. Part of the reason behind this success is the ease of use and the range of services that Alexa comes pre-loaded with. From streaming music on Spotify, to ordering a taxi on Uber, to seeking medical advice from Web MD, Alexa does it all through a simple conversation. Even with all its success Alexa needs to build a user base, which is where Facebook has an inherent advantage.

Facebook owns the largest share of the messenger market and made headlines last year when it launched the Chatbot API for Messenger for developers. This essentially allowed external parties to create AI powered services for Messenger. Facebook’s chatbot announcement garnered great attention because of all the exciting possibilities it opened up. By creating their own chatbots businesses could deliver one-to-one customer service without maintaining expensive call centres or sales departments. The chatbot announcement created a frenzy for bot development, which is reminiscent of the heady days of app development, when every brand wanted their own app and every developer had a new app idea!

The possibilities for business and marketing created by AI innovation are immense. In my view, the Ailed transformation is hinged on the opportunity to personalise at scale. Brands can deliver products, messages and services through AI technologies to the right consumer at the right time, in a way that just hasn’t been possible before. So if you’re fashion retailer, you will no longer need to drive customers to your website or app. Instead you will be able to curate a personal collection for each individual customer, based on their tastes and needs and present it to them when they are most likely to buy. While this is an irresistible proposition for marketers, we must tread carefully. The technology is still nascent and adoption is still small. Recently, Facebook announced that its bots had hit a failure rate of 70%. So before we jump on the bandwagon and create more bots than we know what to do with, let’s start small and learn from our success and failures.

As virtual assistants and chatbots become part of our daily lives (and it is a matter of when, not if!) all our experiences – from conversations, to entertainment, to shopping will be delivered by someone who really knows and understands us. This someone will be able to pre-empt our needs, our moods, our likes and dislikes. This someone will be our friend, our confidant, our doctor and our legal advisor. This someone will be an AI powered machine and is already knocking on our door.

This article was written as part of an IAB Whitepaper Future Trends Paper 19 – The Future of AI FINAL