Andy Peart: A lot of the conversation so far has been in building individual artificially intelligent assistants and interfaces. I think the next step is going to be about how you can build an ecosystem of these natural language applications and get them to speak to each other. That’s the subject of a number of patents that we have lumped together into the Teneo network of knowledge.
In a nutshell, that is about providing this ecosystem of intelligent assistants with know-how for handover when a specific query is asked. At the moment, on Siri for example if you want to book a flight, it would say, “Okay, let me open the relevant webpage for you.”
Wouldn’t it be so much better if you’re able to ask, “I’m looking for a flight to San Francisco tomorrow.” It knows the time you always fly British Airways because it’s learned by behaviour. It also knows that you always like a window seat. It would go off and hand over to the British Airways natural language application and come back with, “There’s a flight at 9:40 tomorrow morning. Here’s the relevant details. Are you interested?” It provides much more intuitive and seamless responses through a network. In effect, you’re providing an army of intelligent applications and not just an individual.
Sramana Mitra: You’re saying that there will be assistants on the business side and the consumer side that will be able to interface with one another and close the loop of transactions in this mode that are much more seamless and much faster.
Andy Peart: I absolutely believe so. I think that’s where it’s going. You touched on the enterprise side. What we’ve been talking about is consumer. Of course, people working in enterprises are also consumers and know what they want. This is really when Slack is starting to make a little bit of ground in bringing the concepts that can be enhanced with natural language into the enterprise.
Sramana Mitra: You talked about this in your Shell example. The distributor network of Shell interfaces with the Shell corporate to answer the questions of the distributors and fulfill the request of the distributor. You have a whole dialogue flow that digitizes that somehow so that flow can happen in a much more efficient way. That’s an example of enterprise workflow becoming automated through dialogue flows where you do not need people at every step to be answering those questions.
Andy Peart: Let me just jump in a 30-second scenario just to illustrate another use. This particular example is with a company called Unibet, which is an online gaming company. They’re a massive organization operating in 50 countries worldwide with millions of users. What they are wanting to do is targetnew sets of customers – people who have not placed a bet, who are not likely to go into a betting shop, or hate the thought of going on an online gambling site but might wish to put a bet on England to win the World Cup next year.
I want the app to be able to understand what I’m talking about and not talk to me in betting jargon because I just don’t understand any of it. I want to be able to be handheld through the whole process. That’s exactly what Unibet has done by speech-enabling their mobile betting up to be able to target people like me and to make the in-game betting experience better for the hardened gambler. They make it much more intuitive using natural language.
Sramana Mitra: It’s very interesting. Right now, we’re going through a renaissance in artificial intelligence. For many years, artificial intelligence didn’t really take off. I’ve worked on artificial intelligence applications way back in the late 90s and it really didn’t take off at that time at all.
Andreas Wieweg: Adding a bit more on this, there are also various trends converging, supplementing, and complementing each other. It is the resurgence of AI. It is, of course, a machine power. Then it is about wearables, which is also driving the speech modality because it’s pretty hard to text on a little ring. Then you have virtual reality, which is finally starting to appear.
In a similar way that Echo device teaches people to communicate with voice, that’s going to happen with virtual reality. We have the enterprises and we have the small home. You have conversational search. You have smart home. You have toys, games, and wearables. All of these are strong trends in their own right. You have AI, conversational, and then interacting in the natural way. Put all these things together and that is where we sit. It is our challenge to build a platform allowing people to create applications for this wide range I just outlined.
Sramana Mitra: Is the company a venture-funded company? What are the particulars about the company?
Andy Peart: We’re a private company. We are backed by several VCs but the prime VC is an organization called Scope that has funded the massive R&D effort that has gone into the Teneo platform. More by luck than judgement, we absolutely have the product that’s right for this suddenly blossoming emerging market. We’re excited. The real difference that we believe we have is the fact that we have a platform that can be used for all sorts of things.
It can range from VR companies who are wanting to speech-enable the characters in their gaming package so they can be humanlike and conversational, through to enterprises like Vodafone, one of our clients that wants to improve the customer experience through these intelligent systems. It doesn’t matter because we’ve built this conversational platform.
Sramana Mitra: Very good. Terrific. I really enjoyed listening to your story.