Chatbots and conversational commerce

Why is this important?

Chat and messaging has become a natural part of our everyday interactions with one another. It is still dominantly between humans, although the rise of conversational commerce has been predicted for some years. Conversational commerce means using chat or natural dialogue interfaces for interacting with a company, much like would be done with a sales clerk. The conversation can be between consumer and business, consumer and shopping assistant or merchant and back-office system. Using chat or messaging is a natural interface which works well for mobile, scales well into new features, supports multiple devices and is familiar to most. Therefore it is very lucrative for businesses.

Things to keep an eye on

Conversational commerce advances in two frontiers: in platform specific chatbots and integrated into other messaging apps such as WeChat or Messenger. The advances in artificial intelligence have enabled more fluent conversations to take place with chatbots, making them more usable. There is also increasing amount of commercial offerings integrated into messaging apps. It is also worth looking how voice activated personal assistants such as Siri or Alexa evolve in terms of recommending where to shop.

Selected articles and websites

The conversational commerce hype is real
Watch Out for the “Conversational Interface” in 2017
Chatbots and VR lead this season’s top tech trends in retail
The inevitable march of the chatbots into conversational commerce
2016 will be the year of conversational commerce
Start building Actions on Google

Mikko Dufva

Research Scientist VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland Ltd
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Use cases of AI for platforms

Why is this important?

There is currently a lot of hype around artificial intelligence (AI), but what opportunities does it offer for platforms? Roughly put: intelligent interfaces, comprehensive collection and advanced analysis of data. Chatbots and other conversational interfaces offer a natural way for people to communicate with a service offered by the platform, either via typing or voice. AI can offer customer service, online tutoring, expert advice or even a personal assistant. In the background it can go through massive amounts of data and recognise patterns. This has applications from health diagnosis to extracting information from street signs and from combating fraud to identifying key “influencers” of social media. The more data is fed to AI, more capable it gets.

Things to keep an eye on

All the big players are investing heavily in AI, with the hopes that they become the de facto platform for all things AI. How this plays out remains to be seen. It is also uncertain how the public opinion towards AI evolves: so far we have been a bit wary of letting always on personal assistants into our living rooms or trusting AI with our health data. The ethics of AI are still being discussed although the technology and services are advancing rapidly.

Selected articles and websites

Artificial intelligence and the evolution of the fractal economy
How Artificial Intelligence and Robots Will Radically Transform the Economy
7 Ways to Introduce AI into Your Organization
Google, Facebook, and Microsoft Are Remaking Themselves Around AI
Here’s What Artificial Intelligence Will Look Like in 2030
Why artificial intelligence is the future of growth
Would you want to talk to a machine?
Google’s Featured Snippets on Desktop Now Written By Artificial Intelligence
Uber Bets on Artificial Intelligence With Acquisition and New Lab

Mikko Dufva

Research Scientist VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland Ltd
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Hyperledger and open blockchain

Why is this important?

Blockchain can be used for many services in platforms, such as for distributed and secure digital rights management or payments, ensuring identity or making smart, self-actualising contracts. While it is currently being used mainly for digital currencies such as bitcoin, it is increasingly being used in other areas. In order to enable more wide and open use and seamless cross-industry interaction between different blockchain-based services, Linux foundation launched an open-source project called Hyperledger. The goal is to create a common infrastructure and standard regarding membership management, blockchain technology implementation, transactions and the blockchain code for writing e.g. smart contracts. The project is already backed by many major players, such as IBM, Intel and Accenture.

Things to keep an eye on

Hyperledger aims to define the underlying frame for ensuring interoperability and transparency of blockchain technologies. While there is an increasing number of organisations backing the project, it is interesting to see what kinds of services and applications will eventually be built on top of the common framework. Collaboration or cooperation between other general implementations of blockchain such as Ethereum are also something to keep an eye on.

Selected articles and websites

How the blockchain will radically transform the economy
Introduction to Hyperledger; Why open Blockchain is critical
Hyperledger vs. Ethereum: Yes? No? Maybe?
4 reasons why entrepreneurs should build blockchain companies
Deloitte Survey Results on Blockchain Across Industries

Mikko Dufva

Research Scientist VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland Ltd
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Voice interface

Why is this important?

As speech recognition gets better, it becomes more and more practical to communicate with a computer or smart device via voice. For platforms this means new possibilities and requirements when it comes to designing the interface. Can the service be used through voice commands? What are the new use cases when the user doesn’t have to stare at a screen?

Things to keep an eye on

Improved speech recognition and text-to-speech services means that the border between voice and text blurs. You can have a chat where one person is speaking and the other typing. This also means that everything that is said can more easily be analysed, which raises concerns for privacy. On the other hand, voice controlled digital assistants such as Siri or Alexa become the contact point for users and thus have an influence on which service or platform is used: for example, if Siri is told to play a song, it will more likely do it via Apple Music than Spotify.

Selected articles and websites

The next mobile interface: when bots and voice merge
Voice Is the New OS: Getting Ready for the AI-First World
Voice is chat’s next battleground
Bots, Chat, Voice, Zero UI, and the future of Mobile Apps

Mikko Dufva

Research Scientist VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland Ltd
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Deep learning and neural networks

Deep learning refers to an approach in machine learning, which aims at teaching machines to recognise abstract concepts based on large datasets. The leading edge currently is unsupervised machine learning, where the machine is left to make sense of the data on its own. Deep learning has made huge leaps in pattern recognition possible. Google Deepmind is one of the prominent companies utilising deep learning.

Why is this important?

For platforms deep learning offers the possibility to make sense of and recognise patterns from large amounts of data. Google provides an open source library called TensorFlow for this. Another benefit are the services that deep learning provides, such as voice recognition, chatbots etc. These can provide new functionality to the platform. On a broader view, the motivation is to use the deep learning to solve global problems.

Things to keep an eye on

The focus is now especially on unsupervised machine learning and “differentiable neural computers”, which can make sense of complex structured data. Examples of what deep learning algorithms such as the Google DeepMind can do range from lip reading to advanced translation to making sense of a metro map. One interesting development is making APIs to enable artificial intelligence algorithms to play games such as Starcraft and learn through it. This also means that artificial intelligence might be the future user of a platform. The big question then is will it benefit or exploit the platform.

Selected articles and websites

DeepMind has conquered games, London’s Underground and now it wants to help save the planet
Deep Learning Papers
Google’s DeepMind AI Said to Outperform Professional Lip-Readers
Zero-Shot Translation with Google’s Multilingual Neural Machine Translation System
Google’s AI creates its own inhuman encryption
Google DeepMind to Use Blizzard’s StartCraft II for AI Research Platform
Differentiable neural computers

Mikko Dufva

Research Scientist VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland Ltd
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Collapse of the internet

Why is this important?

Internet is the backbone of almost all platforms. However, it’s reliability is facing problems related to capacity and security. The physical infrastructure is struggling to keep up with rising amounts of traffic. Perhaps more importantly, the domain name servers have been increasingly under serious distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks. If the reliability of internet is challenged many of the platforms we take for granted will not work. Platforms will then have to seek other networks or ways to exchange information.

Things to keep an eye on

The rise in Internet of Things (IoT) brings to the net a multitude of connected devices, usually with low security, enabling ever larger DDoS attacks. If these attacks succeed in crippling the name servers, the internet will eventually split into separate smaller networks. DDoS attacks can also more easily affect the websites and servers of individuals or organisations. The scarcity of capacity may also challenge net neutrality.

Selected articles and websites

The internet of stings
10 things to know about the October 21 IoT DDoS attacks
Optical Fibers Getting Full
When Will the Internet Reach Its Limit

Mikko Dufva

Research Scientist VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland Ltd
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5G

Why is this important?

5G – 5th generation wireless systems – improves the speed, capacity and energy-efficiency, and reduces the latency of wireless data transfer. This is important for platform economy, because it enhances the opportunities for mobile and ubiquitous digital services as well as enables the high data transfers required by some internet of things (IoT) solutions.

Things to keep an eye on

Because 5G is currently being driven by mobile video and IoT, it requires new kinds of revenue models. In some applications there are huge amounts of data transfer, while some IoT solutions might require only a few bits per month. Thus there is a direction towards more integrated solutions, where the 5G connectivity is only one part. The drivers of the development of 5G could thus be in automotive, energy or health care industries. Another thing to keep an eye on is how regulation supports or restricts the development in different parts of the world.

Selected articles and websites

Imagining the 5G Wireless Future
Huawei: Automotive and energy industries driving 5G and IoT, not telcos
5G for Europe Action Plan
5G Is Coming, But 4G Isn’t Going Away Any Time Soon
5G Test Network in Oulu

Mikko Dufva

Research Scientist VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland Ltd
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Reputation Economy

Why is this important?

Platform economy often requires trusting strangers. One mechanism for ensuring that everyone plays nicely is to have a reputation system in place. Customers rate the service provider (e.g. Uber driver or Airbnb apartment) and the service provider in turn rates the customer. The ratings or at least their averages are public, which influences who we trust and how we behave in the platform. Reputation is thus a valuable asset in the platform economy.

Things to keep an eye on

Because reputation is valuable, the mechanisms that affect how it is created, shared and used are important. Can the reputation scores be transferred to other services or used in a way not originally intended? Will reputation economy become a new surveillance and control system, as depicted in dystopian images of future, which do not seem so far off given the failed startup Peeple and the Sesame Credit system in place in China.

Selected articles and websites

The Reputation Economy: Are You Ready?
We’ve stopped trusting institutions and started trusting strangers
The reputation economy and its discontents
China has made obedience to the State a game
Black Mirror Is Inspired by a Real-Life Silicon Valley Disaster

Mikko Dufva

Research Scientist VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland Ltd
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Airbnb’s homesharing clubs

Airbnb has been encouraging people who let their apartment through Airbnb to organise themselves into local ”homesharing clubs”. One main motivation behind this is to fight the increasingly strict regulations set by cities on renting apartments through Airbnb and similar services.

Why is this important?

While Airbnb is especially challenging the hotel industry, perhaps the main motivation for cities to restrict the service is the consequent rise in rental prices in downtown areas as well as losing control on the inflow of tourism. Airbnb has fought against regulations before, but the homesharing clubs are a different strategy, as they engage the local hosts to lobby for more favourable regulation. This is different from the attempts by some Uber drivers to unionize themselves, as this is driven by the platform owner, Airbnb, itself.

Things to keep an eye on

The problems with homesharing are systemic in nature and thus difficult to solve. Letting one’s apartment can provide additional income, but it can also lead to rising rental prices overall. Homesharing clubs and local organisation in general is a good idea, but the key question is whose interests the clubs represent: the platform owner’s, the hosts’ or the community in general? How this tension plays out indicates where the platform economy is heading in different regions: to delaying the inevitable, towards winner-takes-all markets, to locally and communally owned platforms, towards platforms as commons or to some other direction.

Selected articles and websites

Airbnb faces worldwide opposition. It plans a movement to rise up in its defence
Bringing People and Places to the Table
Airbnb hosts protest new rental law outside New York governor’s office

Mikko Dufva

Research Scientist VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland Ltd
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IBM Watson

Why is this important?

The IBM Watson ecosystem enables developers to include artificial intelligence to their services. Examples range from personalised health care advice to accelerated R&D to automated customer support. A key point to keep in mind is that the whole ecosystem is learning. As the ecosystem grows and more use cases are added, the quality and the range of things IBM Watson can do increases.

Things to keep an eye on

As the number of sensors and connected devices grows, the amount and ubiquity of data increases and this benefits machine learning services such as IBM Watson. Therefore it is useful to think how much data is gathered and where it is gathered. Another thing to consider is the potential public backlash from seeing artificial intelligence as a creepy ”big brother”. In addition, the question of who owns the data is crucial.

Selected articles and websites

IBM Watson ecosystem
R&D support: Inno360
Condé Nast Has Started Using IBM’s Watson to Find Influencers for Brands
Next Target for IBM’s Watson? Third-Grade Math

Mikko Dufva

Research Scientist VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland Ltd
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