artificial intelligence

Useful chatbots ready for you

Post in What's the Forecast?

As you might have read in a previous post here on What’s the Forecast?, bots and “chatbots” are on the rise. Early-adopters and businesses are beginning to emphasize their use of bots — in a way to engage the receiver in a whole new way.

We’re just getting started at Forecast as well — Message the Forecast bot.

In this post, I will introduce you to some of the best chatbots available out there at the moment — some which have already gained ground even in bots’ still very early stage of penetration. These bots are mainly targeted towards the consumer market, but stay up-to-date in here when we list some similarly useful bots for the business environment in an upcoming post.

Booking a room through Facebook Messenger

Booking a room through Facebook Messenger

The examples of bots below are assembled to provide a list that is available and useful for everybody — thus the bots are globally available, and regional or national bots are left out, but I encourage you to take a look at your local bots as well through search in various bot directories both inside platforms and outside through websites, e.g. Chatbottle.

Tap the bot names for direct links to Facebook Messenger. Some might also be available on other bot platforms.

Customer service
The most businesses out there are already providing support and customer service through social media channels, such as Facebook and Twitter. This has just been part of the general work of the social media marketing teams in organizations, but now we see businesses incorporating more sophisticated solutions — where the business directly encourage potential customers to engage with their support team through channels like Facebook Messenger.

Some go a step further, and integrate a bot into this chat experience, in order to provide quick assistance around the clock, and at the same time lowering costs of having personnel ready 24/7. Simply search for a specific business, and send them a message — as you would do a friend.

Questions regarding health, lifestyle, illnesses, etc. can arise at any given moment in people’s lives. Time is often an important measure when it comes to curing an illness or disease, both in terms of how to react to certain symptoms and providing an instant answer to lower people’s worry. Chatbots are an obvious fit for health assistance.

One great example is HealthTap. Through a conversational experience, you tell the bot which types of symptoms you face, and the bot then searches its’ database of similar questions asked by other users both through the bot, and through other means. If several doctors have answered a similar question, you can read one or all of them, and see what fits your situation best.

In the case that HealthTap isn’t able to find an appropriate answer to your question, they have a team of doctors who will answer your question — free of charge.

Availability: Facebook Messenger

Sources of news have been one of the first categories to penetrate the chatbot market very quickly. There are a great number of bots already available from across global, national and local news sources — whether it’s general news coverage, technology, fashion or another subject.

Some great examples: CNNTechCrunchThe Wall Street JournalOutbraintheScore (for sports), NFLDiggHi Poncho (for weather), Sky NewsThe GuardianTech in AsiaHuffington Post, etc.

Thus, you’re able to get instant breaking news, general top news, or your daily digest personalized to fit your interests.

Many independent brands have begun to grab the opportunity, and engage, promote and showcase new products through chat, matching your tastes.

Examples: chatShoppereBay ShopBotBrathwaitShop SpringBurberry, etc.

Some of these learn your taste over time — this is mainly in the case of bigger brands with a wider range of selections, while smaller independent brands naturally don’t need to learn people’s taste, since they already acknowledged that they like the brand by engaging with it. Some brands are about to integrate the whole checkout process within the bot environment, while others directs you to their website through a link.

Inspiration and Learn
Chatbots can be as engaging or as simple and quiet as preferred — sometimes customizable.

Epytom Style Strategist sends you styles every morning, new combinations and looks. It learns from your taste over time, and encourage users to send back their matching look for others to gain inspiration from.

Ainstein is a bot that helps you to learn and understand programming languages. You simply choose a language, and how often you want to take sessions towards reaching your goal.

Sure helps you find new interesting venues to eat, drink or hangout — based on your location, price and tastes.

EmojiHEALTH is targeted towards teens and millennials, and encourage people to base their lives on health and wellness. Through an on-going conversation with pictures, quizzes, etc. it keeps their users engaged over time. Fitly and MyWorkout are bots providing you with body-weight exercises which are easy-to-do in a home or work setting. Bearhug helps tracking your periods (it was clever enough to make me aware that I don’t have that…), while Drink H2O simply reminds you to drink water throughout the day.

Akita helps you find events happening around you within a chosen time frame, price and category.

The Green Junkie helps you find healthy recipes within specific categories. The bot is focused on plant-based food — thus a great companion for vegans.

Ask Haley connects parents to experts and creates a private room for questions.

Time wasters and Social
Another popular category of chatbots is the social and “for fun” bots. These are quick bots that you can reach out to whenever you have a moment, and need a little entertainment.

Swelly is a simple peer-to-peer poll bot. You simply receive pictures and questions anonymously from other people, and then you either like or dislike, hot or not, vote option 1 or option 2, etc. Afterwards, you see a graph showing the current state of the poll, and whether you went for the most popular choice or the other. All kinds of fun polls are going on in there, and you can of course add your own to get other people’s opinion as well.

Foxsy is a matchmaking, friends finder and dating bot that connects to your Facebook account, and helps you find new matches. At the other end of the spectrum, Chatible and Anony both connect you to strangers in the best Chatroulette style — anonymously and easy to leave.

Sequel Stories is an interactive story bot. Initially you choose a story, and through an on-going visual conversation, you choose different options and thus design your own way through the story. Humani: Jessie’s Story is in a similar way a conversation-based story with a very responsive and interactive chatbot. The story is mainly text-based, and adds a very natural language, like texting a friend.

Trivia Blast is a pop culture quizzing bot with games that you can play alone (with the bot), or invite friends around to.

Dankland is a meme creator. You send a picture, and the bot automatically applies a random text upon it.

Automation and assistance
The assisting bot category is where it gets really interesting both within personal-, and business everyday life. These help you in various ways, and always run in the background to keep you on-track.

More sophisticated personal assistants are expected to evolve in the coming months and years, read more here, but simpler “one task”-bots are already available through channels like Facebook Messenger.

Icon8 is a photo filter-adding bot. You send a picture to the bot, and choose which filter you want to be added to the specific picture. New filters are added and changed on an ongoing basis, and the filter-added image is received instantly — ready to publish on Instagram or similar. Photo Colorizer uses artificial intelligence to instantly colorize a picture — you can send a black/white vintage photo, and receive a brand new natural-looking color image.

HP Print Bot is a very clever official bot by HP. Through a simple conversation you connect the bot to your printer, and afterwards you’re able to send files directly to the printer through the bot. The bot will also keep you updated on the status of ink cartridges, and notify you to refill whenever needed.

Hello Jarvis is a to-do list and reminder bot. You simply tell the bot what you need to get done, and it’ll keep track of everything — remind you whenever a due is upcoming.

AutoHash provides instant image label detection — scans your image and sends back a list of appropriate hashtags for social media (particularly, Instagram). Simple, but useful bot if you’re into Instagram and hashtags.

WTFIT is in a similar way a visual recognition bot. You send it a picture of a specific thing, building, painting, etc., and it will analyze it instantly to provide you with an answer within seconds.

Hipmunk does what Hipmunk does — provide you with qualified flight and hotel search results matching your queries. Similarly, KAYAK does also have a bot doing somewhat the same thing, while Instalocate does live flight tracking and updates.

RemitRadar helps you find providers with the best exchange rates between two currencies. It collects different options, and makes it cheaper to send / receive money globally.

GrowthBot is a marketing and sales bot that aggregates various information about various things, e.g. you can ask for company info, which PPC keywords they buy, or look up an email address.

As a reward for reading all the way through (or scrolling at least), I’ll provide you with a simple, yet useful, tip to get a more native experience of your bots by adding them to the home screen of your smartphone.

Through Facebook Messenger, go to your favorite bot, tap the information icon in the upper right-hand corner, and then the three dots at the same place. Tap “Create shortcut”. The bot will now be available directly from your home screen.

Top technological trends of 2017

Post in What's the Forecast?

2016 was the year where many of the upcoming tendencies within the technological environment began to emerge. Trends that initially go through a phase of introduction among early-adopters, and then through months begin to evolve into the general public. Trends such as virtual reality, augmented reality, internet of things, bots and personal assistants.

What all of these trends have in common is a more intelligent, engaging and personalized experience for every individual user — new technology that includes the user in completely new ways, bringing new opportunities for both consumers as well as businesses.

Companies like Oculus, HTC, and Microsoft have all taken serious steps towards bringing the future of visual content into consumers’ hands over the past year. Especially mobile VR headsets such as the Samsung Gear VR (by Oculus), HTC Vive and Google Daydream brought the average person into a new type of experience. Simply by plugging your smartphone into the headset, people got sucked into another place and got a sneak peek of what the coming years have to offer.

Oculus (by Facebook) has long been the most advanced and developed manufacturer of VR headsets for the consumer market, and has thus also taken steps towards bringing social into the VR experience — a natural evolution. Facebook’s CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, showcased the first glimpse of what Facebook in VR might look like. Through the internet, Mark Zuckerberg was able to connect, and share a physical environment with two fellow team members, play games, share content in real-time, take pictures together, etc. directly on stage with friends from across long distances.

CEO of Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg, in VR with two team members

CEO of Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg, in VR with two team members

Augmented reality on the other hand hasn’t quite gotten to the point where the general market has begun benefiting from it yet. Google Glass has probably been the most promising initiative to bring a real functioning product in consumers’ hands. Though in January 2015, Google stopped producing the Project Glass prototype, and moved the product from the experimental division, Google X, to the main hardware department instead. In December 2015, Google filed a patent for a new version of the Google Glass product, but it hasn’t seen any public attention since. Google Glass is at the moment mainly used by surgeons to have important vital information visible at all times during operations.

Another significant manufacturer within AR is Microsoft. Microsoft has been running prototypes of the Microsoft HoloLens headset, and both a developer edition and a commercial suite are now available for the prices of 3,000 or 5,000 USD, respectively.

Example of a mixed environment with AR by Microsoft HoloLens

Example of a mixed environment with AR by Microsoft HoloLens

Both VR and AR are definitely two technologies that will further evolve over the coming months. Facebook open-sourced code for a full-automatic 360 degree video camera to record an environment, and make it available for VR in an instant. Samsung recently released a similar initiative, namely a fully portable 360 degree camera to help consumers create and share unique experiences with friends and family. On that note, Facebook also made it possible to share 360 degree pictures, videos and live streams directly in the news feed for everybody to enjoy.

This is a significant evolution. Never before has the infrastructure been solid enough to allow for full-blown 360 degree experiences shared across the world, and even less so in the case of live streaming — which requires a very low latency rate between the broadcaster and receiver in order to be an enjoyable experience.

Another very significant development in the market of technology is the introduction of bots and personal assistants among consumers. Bots use artificial intelligence, also known as machine-learning, to personalize an experience to the end-user. Chatbots have been the first type of bots to arrive, and gain a somewhat significant user base in 2016 — at least among early-adopters. A total of 36,000 bots were published on the Facebook Messenger platform in 2016, the initial year of launch, and other platforms targeted towards different segments did in the same way experience an increase in the interest and penetration of bots, incl. Slack for business, Skype, Kik, Google Assistant, etc.

Example of an everyday scenario between a traveler and an airline

Example of an everyday scenario between a traveler and an airline

The next natural step was to bring the bots from your pocket (i.e. smartphone) into the living room — available by voice at all times. Google Home and Amazon’s Alexa are two of the first to make this a reality. These have already gained a solid ground, significantly in the home market — United States. Facebook, Google and Amazon are some of the main businesses expected to grow a major market share in the coming years, but other competing manufacturers like Apple’s Siri, Samsung’s Viv, etc. are also expected to enter the market in the coming months.

Google Home (with Google Assistant) in an living room environment

Google Home (with Google Assistant) in an living room environment

Thus, bots and personal assistants will to an increasing degree replace other media such as websites and apps. Why, read more.

Internet of Things (IoT)
Following the trends of intelligent bots, and an ever increasing connected world — time has come to more deeply integrate the entire home. Home appliances, i.e. fridge, oven, coffee machine, etc. will all be integrated and connected through the internet. Similarly, we will also see a wider array of intelligent products, such as lamps, security systems, door locks, curtains, and so forth be connected to bots, as mentioned above, and thus make us able to access our home through the smartphone, no matter where we might be.

Example of a smart lock with display and camera for your front door

Example of a smart lock with display and camera for your front door

Turn up the lights, check what’s in the fridge from the grocery store, automatically start the coffee machine before you get up, see who’s at the door and open remotely, and turn on the oven — so it’s ready for cooking when you get home. These and many other use cases will emerge around the home environment, and introduce you to a more intelligent, inter-connected future.

Autonomous driving, and instant delivery by drone
The most major manufacturers of vehicles have already begun developing technology for self-driving cars, incl. Tesla, Volvo, Audi, among others. Moreover, pure technology companies like Google and Uber have engaged in similar initiatives. Google’s Waymo is active on the roads in San Francisco, and completed it’s first fully automated ride in 2015 with the sole attention of a blind person in the vehicle. The first fully automatic vehicles from Waymo are expected to be publicly available by the year of 2020.

Google’s Waymo connected with a regular car

Google’s Waymo connected with a regular car

In the case of retail shipping and delivery services, Amazon successfully completed its’ first delivery by an automated drone in December 2016, a Fire TV dongle and a bag of popcorn. It might take some time before we begin to see mail drones hovering above our heads acting as mail personnel, but it is for sure an interesting future we approach with 24/7 instant delivery of goods to our homes.

These, self-driving cars and mail drones, are two trends that might not find its’ way to the market over the course of the coming year — due to significant factors such as safety, privacy and general political and technological matters. What is certain though is that the next 5–10 years will provide a much better look at what the future has to offer within business and the consumer markets. Read more when we unfold the coming 5–10 years in an upcoming post.

The state of bots by the end of 2016

Post in What's the Forecast?

Bots, also known as chatbots, personal assistants, etc. experienced their first major year in 2016 when popular messaging platforms such as Facebook Messenger published their first initiatives within the bots environment to the public.

Example of a bot in Facebook Messenger from KLM Royal Dutch Airlines

Example of a bot in Facebook Messenger from KLM Royal Dutch Airlines

Social media companies like Facebook are gradually moving away from the traditional news feed, towards a more personal messaging focused strategy — for good reasons. Messaging platforms, like Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp, outpaced the “traditional” social networking apps, i.e. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc. in 2015, and since then the growth has only accelerated even more. According to Business Insider, the total active number of users on the top 4 messaging platforms surpassed 3 billion globally in early 2016, while the top 4 social networking apps reached “just” 2.5 billion users in the same period.

Even though chatbots experienced their first publicly recognized year with more than 36,000 bots published on the Facebook Messenger platform — it still didn’t reach a significant user base. The bots were mainly adopted by early-adopters who tried various types of bots for the excitement rather than for the actual usability. 2017 on the other hand is expected to be the first year where the average consumer will begin to benefit and engage with these bots in various different ways, and thus assist them in their everyday tasks.

In the coming months and years, we will gradually see the intelligence, experience and usability of these bots improve, and over time become an obvious part of our lives, similarly to websites and apps have done it in the past. Bots can provide something that both websites and apps have somewhat failed at, namely creating a personalized and unique experience for every user out there. Interaction with bots happens in the most natural way to human, through the spoken and written words. It’s able to remember what you have requested in the past, your preferences, name, interests, location, and so forth in a very time efficient way. Thus being aware of your immediate situation and environment.

Time and quality are probably the two most important factors when it comes to attracting a significant user base. People tend to use the platforms and services which bring the answer to their needs in the quickest and easiest way. Bots are generally expected to outpace both websites and apps in terms of this in the years ahead, while also bringing in the personalized experience — in other words, both the time and quality.

In the coming weeks and months — we will follow up on this post, and update you on what’s currently happening within this subject. Next post will recommend a handful (or two) of the best bots that you should definitely try out right now, and provide you with some user scenarios that you might actually enjoy and benefit from in the future.

Bots will soon help project managers make more accurate plans

Guest Post in VentureBeat

Artificial intelligence (A.I.) has taken the media by storm, with new groundbreaking accomplishments by global companies. Google’s DeepMind recently beat a world champion of Go, which is said to be the most advanced board game on this planet. Moreover, DeepMind is now able to assist doctors during surgery, detect risk of blindness in an early state to improve the chances of recovery, and other important breakthroughs such as natural language recognition, object detection in images, and face recognition.

Most recently the DeepMind team has been able to generate natural-sounding music and speech based on data from its neural network, WaveNet. A survey showed that the A.I.-generated voice sounded more natural to the sample group of both English and Mandarin Chinese speakers than Google’s other text-to-speech technologies developed by other means, though WaveNet was still not able to outperform the recorded voice of real human beings.

IBM’s Watson is able to, among other things, gather, analyze, and provide you with detailed insights into your personality based solely on data from your Twitter account. There are already many companies in this space, and the consumer will, in the coming months and years and with or without their knowledge, begin to benefit from some of these technological advances.

One feature that many consumers have already played around with are the personal mobile assistants, including Google Assistant, Apple Siri, Microsoft Cortana, Facebook M, and many others. These bots are already helping people perform daily tasks, saving time and energy by making photos searchable with objects and people present in them, uncluttering your inbox, and automatically generating subtitles for your videos. But this is still just the beginning.

One specific space ripe for A.I. help is the project management field — and thereby technically all industries. Major projects, whether on a private or governmental level, are prone to go overdue or over budget, sometimes both. This all comes down to inaccurate planning in the initial phase of the project. It’s an ideal target for machine learning.

Project managers face on a daily basis a large number of unknown factors that need to be taken into consideration before, during, and after the project: estimates, employee allocation and utilization, task management, and more. There are many unknown values to play around with, which often turns into too much information. A few examples from Denmark suggest that even very experienced entities encounter these problems, e.g. the Eurovision Song Contest in Copenhagen, Rejsekort (the Travel Card system for public transportation), and the national digital health journaling systems. There are many other examples from Denmark alone.

To help this problem, artificial intelligence and machine-learning technology are now beginning to penetrate the market for project management tools. Right now project managers are only able to base their decisions, estimates, and so forth on their own previous experience and cannot automatically benefit from the knowledge that the rest of the world’s project managers are dealing with. That is where artificial intelligence comes in. Intelligent software is able to grasp data from across organizations and various types of projects (whether private or public) and tasks, anonymize this data, and create an algorithm to more accurately estimate some of the unknown variables including the schedule, budget, and resource utilization.

For every piece of data added to the intelligent project management system, the A.I.-generated algorithm will be updated and improved. This results in better and more justified decisions from project managers, as well as the individual team members. In the end, providing and supporting more stable projects that stay on track makes your team able to deliver better projects in time and on budget.

The current state of artificial intelligence, and how it evolves in the palm of your hand

Artificial intelligence (AI) is probably the most rapidly growing new type of technology, and will for sure create a new era of the modern world as we know it today. Modern AI simulates the constant processes going on in our bodies every second of our lives, the human brain and nervous system. The nervous system takes every little piece of information in, through all of your senses, analyzes it, and decides what to keep and what to let go of. You learn from the past, gain experience, to improve your future. This is an ongoing process, and through time you learn to make better decisions; your intuition learns to navigate the world - you automatically improve over time. The is the essence of artificial intelligence.

AI gets the same constant input through an inflow of data, which is stored in the neural network. The same principle, just another name. Data gets analyzed, and processed. Over time an algorithm is setup, and constantly changed a bit, in order to improve, and make better decisions in the future. Now the difference here is that modern AI systems never sleep, and moreover it gets input from often a large amount of people. This makes it able to improve the algorithm faster, and better since the changes are based on input from all of these users, instead of just one - in the case of the human brain.

It’s still early days for AI, but we do already see some great advances in how it can assist people in various different situations and industries. The health industry does already benefit from some of the early research. Google’s DeepMind assists physicians during surgery operations, and it’s now able to recognize early stages of blindness in people, which could potentially help doctors give the right medication, and in the end avoid that risk. Other examples of advances, but just as significant, are natural language recognition, which makes technology able to understand what you say, automatically subtitle a video for deaf people, or translate an ongoing conversation in real-time between you and and another person. We already see examples of these products, and they do actually work quite well. In the future, we could all talk our mother’s tongue, and just have a computer in our ear live translating the conversation.

Furthermore, object detection and face recognition already help people to automatically organize their pictures, make them searchable, so you can find that one picture with your significant other at the beach with a cocktail in your hand. Object detection is also already seen in various industries, for instance a cucumber manufacturer uses the technology to automatically determine a cucumber’s size, and thereby sort them into different categories, label them and it’s ready for the grocery store. Blind people use the technology to get a description of a picture on Facebook, or get the text read out loud for them - thus making smartphones available to a new group of people, and assist them in navigating a device that other people take for granted. This vanishes the need for a human assistant, thus increasing privacy and anonymity. The same technology could potentially be introduced in voting booths during elections.

There are many examples already now. One place where many of us have most likely already experienced some of the advantages of AI, is in the palm of your hand, the personal (mobile) assistants. Google Assistant, Apple’s Siri, Microsoft’s Cortana, Facebook’s M, etc. They are already out there, and ready to assist you in your daily life. Help you with time consuming tasks, unclutter your inbox, provide you with information about the departure of your next train, when you should leave to reach the office in time, or if there is a traffic jam on the way then provide you with an alternative route. For instance, Google Maps uses speed data from various devices to automatically detect traffic jams, where it starts and ends, and how long it will take to get through. Similarly, Facebook uses AI to determine what you should see in your personal news feed, and it’s in the same way in constant movement based on how you interact with your timeline. How long time you look at a specific post, if you tap it, like it, comment or just look at the comments. All of these things happen automatically in the background, a constant exchange between Facebook’s servers and your smartphone. This exchange of data should hopefully improve your experience with Facebook, and other services, to use them more, and in the end benefit from these improvements.

We, at Forecast, use data from various different organizations and projects in a similar way to constantly improve our AI-technology. Whenever a project manager or a team member enter some data into the Forecast system, there’s an inflow of data. This data is anonymized, and analyzed to improve the algorithm for everybody’s benefit. The algorithm is used to estimate some of the unknown values that teams are dealing with on a daily basis, time estimates, budget, scheduling and employee utilization, etc. Making you able to make better decisions, which are based on a more solid and justified foundation. This will hopefully lead to better and more profitable projects, in time and on budget.