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Chatbots and AI interview with researcher and CTO Avi Ben Ezra
As the chatbot revolution spreads into Europe, many companies now manage their multi-channel communications with sophisticated chatbots that are no less efficient than the average human operator. Countries like France, Italy, Spain, UK and Germany now see banks, governments and utility companies increasingly rely on chatbots powered by artificial intelligence and NLP.
We spoke to a technology visionary, Avi Ben Ezra to understand the social and economic impacts of this phenomenon, which is often less discussed than the phenomenal benefits businesses experience as a result of adoption. Ben Ezra is the CTO of SnatchBot, an Israeli based chatbot platform that is a dominant player in the global chatbot market.
The rate of change has been fast. What are peoples reaction to it?
Yes change happened fast. Fortunately it happened in a good sequence: people adopted Facebook and Whatsapp first, formed the habit of using these channels – and then AI caught up to communicate just like a human, if not better. In the communications industry it progressed slower than in transport for example – where the taxi sector have not even come to terms with autonomous vehicles, whereas in reality the capabilities have already moved to empower autonomous heavy transportation and autonomous air transport. The biggest fear among ordinary people were job losses, which did not exactly happen if one consider statistics. For businesses in our industry, the reaction was shareholder delight since clearly AI and chatbots brought along competitive advantage.
Why do you believe most of societies’ concerns about AI are already mitigated?
Besides the fact that the global economy is currently in a good state, we see that the countries where AI adoption – and chatbot deployment are high, also have the highest employment rate in recent times. Therefore the fear that AI was going to take peoples jobs away, did not play out in most of these countries. It is actually providing a solution in countries where the population is ageing. For years now, France, for example attempted to outsource as many customer service jobs as possible to places like Mauritius and parts of Africa, where French is widely spoken. This was done to cut back on taxes and facility costs. So actually, there is an inflow of high-paying jobs in France as offshore centres are shelved in favour of local operations to program and operate chatbots. This creates more tax revenue without decreasing profitability for governments and without driving up unemployment – a win for everyone. As for GDPR, well this solved many of the other concerns people had about technology and their personal data. Personally, I believe that even without GDPR, chatbots are safe than humans if we consider how it reduces issues of credit card fraud and cyberextortion: which can be a problem with offshore centres that are operated by humans. Will there be transitional issues still to face in AI? Probably yes, especially with sectors like air transport. Chatbots is at the lower end of the risk scale.
What is the future of business communications given the current trends?
We envisage a situation where businesses free up more employee time while improving efficiency and other important KPI’s in a highly secure environment. More integration and omnichannel is the future for some businesses, although for us, it is already a part of our reality today. We helped Japanese businesses to integrate Line and Facebook, their favourite channels into one solution, European businesses to integrate their top 5 social channels – and now you have a bot that operate these channels so effectively that customer delight remains high. The assistance that AI will be able to give to humans throughout their day, will bring delight to every business that adopts it, in that context, the future is bright.
Explain why cybersecurity and call centres are at the heart of the solutions you provide:
Well we consider all aspects that can improve business processes to be critical. So it is not that one issue is at the heart of it – but it is an important aspect nevertheless. Even with many call centres looking like a prison, the industry still faces problems with card fraud and data theft, not to mention cyberextortion. Is it really sustainable to incur all these expenses to make a private business like a prison and then still face breaches and fraud? Probably not. So with card processing capabilities no longer handled by humans, it is a win.
Can you share some examples of why industries in different countries adopted chatbots?
There are some common reasons such as competitiveness and the need for integration that applies everywhere. But to be more country-specific, in Latin America, we have organizations with huge scale since they serve all of the Spanish speaking world, so the sheer number of positions they could reduce as a result of adopting chatbots in Banking and Government, makes sense. In France, where facilities are expensive, employment laws and the tax code are also complicating expensive factors so it makes sense again to reduce cost and improve internet security and consumer trust in both France and Belgium.
How are governments responding to chatbots and AI?
In interesting ways. Some governments are our clients because they need to communicate with citizens in a streamlined way. Yet in some countries, businesses fear that if they go all the way with rapid adoption, they may face fines and taxes because it will cause a loss of tax revenue. We feel that the EU actually helped the industry a lot, since the GDPR was agreed in Belgium (Brussels) and implemented in many countries, it will give more confidence to members of the public
Other key developments:
Much more is happening in this fast-growing industry. According to research, the annual growth rate of the chatbot market is now pegged at 24%. Key players like SnatchBot introduced multi-channel capabilities to support almost all major social platforms, including Line, Skype, Messenger, Whatsapp and so forth. Text to speech, coupled with natural language processing (NLP) is considered the latest game changing combination.
The chatbot industry did not seem to bring about job losses in countries that does not function as call centre farms primarily. In fact, it relieved humans of having to contend with often mundane tasks to turn their focus elsewhere. Reducing cost and fraud, while improving security, reliability and efficiency have already been achieved. Who can tell what will be next. This will remain a vibrant space to watch in months and years ahead.
Suggested reading: Follow weekly news commentary by Avi Ben Ezra or access Research by Avi Ben Ezra.