Viv Kicks Off The Chat Bot Wars

Will Bots Make It Easier or Harder to Be Visible?

Viv, a new audio AI chatbot from Siri’s founders, debuted yesterday at Disrupt NY. While the audio recognition was interesting, it wasn’t the most interesting piece of it (Nuance provides the audio recognition)  – Viv automatically generates code to provide the response that the user is looking for. The AI writes its own code. In the example they gave, Viv took about ten milliseconds to write a 44-step program in order to respond to a query. Conceivably, the code itself, once written by Viv, is reusable, making the code development and execution even faster. If I ask Viv to book me a car to the airport, it can reach out and connect to any myriad of services in order to provide the best possible solution to my question.

If you’ve heard this before, then you aren’t losing it – it’s Apple Siri and Amazon Echo, but with a very big difference – it’s disconnected from either of those ecosystems and is, therefore, free to connect to any service in order to provide the responses to the customer. Since it’s ecosystem agnostic, it will likely provide the best possible set of responses (assuming that the Viv team doesn’t sell out to Google or Facebook in the meantime), since it’s not tied to a single ecosystem.

For example, Siri might be able to tell you the weather and set you a timer, but it can’t book your tickets to a show. Alexa might be able to tell you a joke, the weather, the time, or a history lesson and let you buy toner cartridges for your printer, but it can’t buy you airline tickets. Viv can do all of those simply because it can connect to everything.

Of course, there is nothing stopping Amazon or Apple from opening up APIs into their respective services and allowing 3rd parties to write code against those assistants, so in one way, they could easily outgun Viv if they decide to do that. On the other hand, Viv is much more than that – the AI looks pretty strong, and the auto-generating code is likely key to its abilities.

There have been reports of a forthcoming virtual assistant from Google, which may be the big contender against Viv since the Google ecosystem, and their propensity to make things open will likely make it more of a threat to Viv. There is also Hound, from SoundHound, another possible virtual AI.

We are just seeing the tip of the virtual AI iceberg, which is great for the continuing improvement of services like this. Once these become useful enough, they may really begin to topple our tendencies to simply search Google and use that result.

On the flip side, for businesses struggling to be heard in this new bot-driven world, the competition to be the name given by the chatbot when you ask for something will be even fiercer than the one raging today for the top Google Ad Words slot. At least AdWords will show 3 or 4 ads – what will the competition be like when Viv (or its sisters) can only respond with its estimation of the customer’s best option?

Here’s what I mean: right now, a small business can pay a few bucks to be listed near the top of the page when the matching search terms are read. But in the world of chatbots, the user may want only the first one or two options or just the best option. Will Viv and her sisters give the user the best option, or will they just give the user the name of the business that paid the most for placement? Virtual assistant companies have a great opportunity to finally truly shut down the noise of the internet and provide the user with the absolute best option, barring any financial-based positioning. Maybe, this time, the most relevant option will be the one provided by Viv instead of the one best positioned by content marketing or the one who paid the most.

Let’s hope that the most relevant really does win the day when the chatbots win. And they will, eventually, probably sooner than you think.

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