In Spike Jonze’s film Her, there aren’t many shockers. We know that Samantha, an artificial intelligence-based virtual assistant (VA) played by Scarlett Johansson, probably wasn’t exclusively designed for — or exclusively intimate with — Theodore, the hapless writer played by Joaquin Phoenix. We also know that Theodore is ultimately losing his visceral connection to the real social world and is therefore reaping some kind of cyber-social catastrophe the closer he gets to Samantha.
None of that mars the film, however. The most transfixing feature of the story is the steady spiraling descent Theodore suffers through — which highlights the emotional dependence that we may have on AI-based VAs in the future.
For the movie’s dark premise to presage reality, artificial intelligence (AI)-based VA technology has some developing to do. But I believe that marketers should look forward to such developments. Regardless of how much we’ll grow dependent on such VAs, their ability to automate and streamline tasks will add a kind of appendage to our abilities and help usher us into the next phase of digital evolution.
As a blockchain and AI advisor and founder of a technology and media company where we’re always testing various VA modalities, I think marketers can and will capitalize big time on AI-based VAs. Start forging the path by gathering the ideas your developers need to head in this virtual direction. These are just some of the spaces where I think we can expect tomorrow’s AI-based VAs.
In Social Channels
Facebook is developing a VA to enhance its user interface and rival Alexa and Siri. If marketers can prepare for and tap into such social application programming interfaces, it could open a new world of social marketing, one where businesses can communicate directly with consumers through hopefully noninvasive AI-based VAs.
It’s still unclear how users and businesses will be able to operate Facebook’s VA, but by working from the 2D but worthwhile capabilities of chatbots that many marketers are already leveraging, you can start thinking about adding valuable audio components that feed through VAs to your targeted users. So if your company isn’t already leveraging chatbots on social channels but is still interested in VA technology, it’s a constructive place to start. There are an estimated 300,000 active chatbots on Facebook Messenger, and several companies, large and small, provide chatbot templates for those without in-house developers.
The benefits of integrating AI-based VAs into an e-commerce site can make a very 2D experience into a multidimensional, hyper-interactive one. Scrolling to search, for example, could start to seem kludgy as shoppers speak keywords to find select items in their size and preferred color. Machine learning-based VAs could be programmed to deliver bespoke audio information to shoppers looking for that tailored experience.
But couple augmented reality with virtual reality, and we will have effectively brought the mall home to our living rooms. Most of the time, the technology likely will be automated, but when, say, clothing stylists are available, they could inhabit the VA and speak directly to shoppers.
Holographic VAs (HVAs), which are like fan-type holograms and portable holographic devices but audio responsive, have the potential to open up demographics in the suspended portions of the market. The elderly, disabled, agoraphobic and generally time-deprived could have better access to new product portfolios that are the bread and butter of companies’ quarterly earnings. There are a few iterations of holographic technology that are becoming available for home and business. As they improve and become standard home gear in the near future, I believe marketers should be in step with how they can position their brands and products through this medium by exploring smart user experience (UX) design that works seamlessly into the VA experience as the technology becomes more widely available.
On Your Website
Incorporating these ideas and technologies into your website could, of course, be a great draw for consumers seeking the ultramodern, ultrasimple brand experience. Still in the research phase, hologram smartphone technology could potentially allow consumers to communicate with website VAs. The goal is a personalized experience, a bit like the airport assistant that debuted several years back and the hologram that Jarem Archer built a couple of years ago but live, algorithmically enriched and fully interactive. Companies could personify about pages, products can pop off product pages and service representatives could appear as 3D avatars.
Ideally, HVAs will be designed to react to body language and pick up emotional cues beyond the vernacular and be able to pivot and make suggestions accordingly. Still a far cry from the emotional comforts we get at Apple’s Genius Bar, we’ll be able to get as close as we can get digitally without getting physical. Thinking about specific prototypical situations where VAs can inhabit marketing channels can help you prepare for the AI-based VA surge.
As consumers spend more time online and technology gets better, so will consumers’ expectations for experiences to be more bespoke and virtual. The shopping experience will likely be personalized in whole new ways when marketers and developers implement 3D Alexa- and Siri-type technology in social channels, e-commerce platforms and websites. With AI-based VAs and HVAs, the possibilities run deep. Start exploring the latest VA and holographic technology, think about how to merge UX with the best VA experiences and then start funding and implementing the technology. It all kind of makes Jonze’s ultramodern film Her seem like old times.