Arrow A a piece of technology being invented, like Chatbots. The X axis is time – a pretty long time in this case – usually a number of years, and the Y axis is the value added to you, as a charity, through potentially adopting that technology. Initially, there’s no value in adoption. It is enormously expensive and no-one really knows what it is yet or what it could mean.
However, there comes a point where there’s just enough public consciousness about this new tech that’s out there, like Chatbots, that if you were to do something, it wouldn’t really do anything for your service users but you might get a lot of articles in newspapers and you can see that some of the charities that we’ve mentioned, like Charity:Water use this process like a cookie-cutter. Every time a new technology comes along, they’re quick to jump on it, press release it, get a load of attention and raise money off the back of it.
At point B, there is this dead zone that occurs where the world waits to see if this is actually going to take off and change everything, and I feel like we’re here with Chatbots right now. It’s quite hard to predict whether these things will make the earth shattering change that they were predicted to. There’s a report from Gartner that said “By 2020, the average person will have more conversations with bots than with their spouse.” 2020 is not so long way away so that would be a rapid (and pretty depressing) adoption of this technology considering most people can’t even name a single chatbot.
An area where chatbots are coming in to their own is through technology like Alexa. Effectively, Alexa or a voice assistant is like a Chatbot, but instead of typing words, you are actually having a conversation.
A few charities have started using voice. At Reason Digital, we have done some work with Age UK to produce an Alexa skills. Cancer Research UK have created something where you can maintain a dialogue with your Amazon Alexa to track how much alcohol you are drinking – given Alexa doesn’t have a camera yet she’s trusting your honesty. British Red Cross have done something where Alexa can read First Aid instructions out to you, so if you’ve got your hands full with an incident, then you can be talked through instructions.
At Google’s developer conference a few weeks back, Google Duplex was introduced. This is their voice assistant which can call people up on the phone, to complete tasks for you. The CEO of Google demonstrated live on stage with the example of making an appointment with a hairdresser. He played the call. The phone rang the hairdresser, pretending to be a human, having a dialogue and then booking the appointment.
At one point, the hairdresser assistant asked, “Would you like – Tuesday or Wednesday?” and Google’s assistant replied, “Errrrrr… I think I want Wednesday.” Google Duplex threw in some conversational fillers to appear more like a human. Many people found it as creepy as they did impressive.
Google have said that they aren’t going to implement the technology in this way. They want to make it clear to people on the other end of the phone, that it is a robot not a real person. However, you can’t help feel that it is a little scary that someone could have an appointment booked with them and not even be aware that they’re talking to a robot. God help us when the PPI cold callers get hold of this tech.
The difficult thing about AI for charities is that there is such a callous gap between the resources of someone like Google or Amazon, compared to that of a charity. There is potential to see more development on this, but only when larger companies start to work with us. There is hope, though. Many of these companies are making AI tools available to developers, and some are encouraging charities to reach out to them for support with using their AIs.