Yariella Coello, head of consultancy at data science and intelligent marketing company Profusion, discusses how tech companies can describe complex subjects like artificial intelligence to everyday consumers.
Amazon has been making headlines again with the opening of concept store Amazon Go in Seattle. This follows hot on the heels of Google unveiling Google Home and Pixel, with Google Assistant as one of its selling points.
Meanwhile, we’ve all got used to having the likes of Siri and Cortana in our pockets and on our laptops. What links all these entities is artificial intelligence (AI), but ask any average Joe on the street about this and they’re more likely to bring up Humans or Westworld as a reference point. Ask them what they understand about machine learning and they’re likely to draw a blank.
Only 18% of consumers surveyed by Weber Shandwick earlier this year stated they felt they had a lot of knowledge about AI, while 48% considered themselves to have a little knowledge. But the majority of survey respondents linked AI to robots and not to the everyday functions AI now powers in our lives.
In part, this could be because the likes of Amazon, Google, Apple and Microsoft keep references to AI at a minimum when describing products and services powered by it.
When describing the technology behind Amazon Go, Amazon doesn’t mention artificial intelligence. Instead, it focuses on giving other examples of AI in use, such as self-driving cars . Conversely, if simplicity is the goal, overly jargon-y phrases like deep learning, sensor fusion and computer vision fail to give real clarity.
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Likewise, AI is almost re-branded by Amazon, Apple and Microsoft when it is used to power virtual assistants. Perhaps playing to humanity’s tendency to anthropomorphise inanimate objects, the tech giants give names to describe the AI-powered assistants. Even Google uses a does-what-it-says-on-the-tin simplistic approach to name its virtual assistant, simply going for Google Assistant.
It is this simplicity and lack of jargon that is key to getting consumers on board. Many tech companies have been guilty of speaking in buzzwords and jargon. What Google et al have learnt when selling AI, is that AI itself is not a selling point for many consumers.
What really sells the tech to consumers is what it can do for them. Amazon Go promises you’ll never have to wait in line, Google Home is “always ready to help” and Siri “helps you get things done”.
When selling AI powered technology, therefore, it’s worth focusing on the impact it will have on an individual’s daily life, how it will make tasks easier and simpler. Detailing what a consumer can do with AI is more powerful than explaining how it does it.
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Another interesting point is in how Apple, Microsoft and Google want us to make a personal connection with AI. To interact with Siri, Google Assistant and Cortana, you simply greet them by voice. Likewise, chatbots are built to try to simulate human conversation as much as possible.
When first released, Siri hit headlines not just because of the technology behind it, but because of the humour Apple programmed into it. Ask Siri the meaning of life and you’ll get a witty answer, ask it to beatbox and… well, give it a try.
Laughter has been shown to be a technique humans use to establish connections with each other. Therefore, making someone laugh when they interact with an AI could very well have a similar effect to laughing with an acquaintance.
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Of course, no company can get it right all of the time, and there have been some occasions where Google, Amazon and others have fallen a little short. If you look at DeepMind’s website, you’re immediately faced with the idea of ‘deep science’ which is a term most industry insiders would find nonsensical, let alone the public.
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It might be tempting to coin a new term or phrase for what you’re offering consumers, but without the right context it becomes meaningless and yet another industry buzzword.
There are clear takeaways for every tech company in the methods the tech giants use to describe complex technology; from making us connect to AI on a personal level, through use of names and giving them a sense of humour, to using examples instead of jargon.
It’s clear that Google, Amazon et al are trying to keep things simple, focusing more on what AI can do for us than the nuts and bolts of how it really works. When describing your offering to the public, clarity really is king. Save the complex and technical information for the rest of the industry and focus on what really matters to your consumers – what the AI does for them.