Microsoft launches Custom Vision and Bing Entity Search

A series of AI offerings from Microsoft target advertisers beginning digital transformations

Microsoft launches Custom Vision and Bing Entity Search

With Amazon, Google, and IBM as competitors in cloud computing, big data, and artificial intelligence (AI), Microsoft is moving to triple down on what it sees as its strengths.

The company has announced advances in several tools that fall under a ‘Cognitive Services’ rubric, including Custom Vision Service, the Face API, and Bing Entity Search.

In a company blog post, Joseph Sirosh, corporate VP of AI at Microsoft, said that Cognitive Services are defined as “a collection of cloud-hosted APIs that let developers easily add AI capabilities for vision, speech, language, knowledge and search into applications, across devices and platforms such as iOS, Android and Windows.”

The purpose of the announcement is to extend reach, offering these tools to data scientists, developers, and advertisers interested to delve into AI with an existing Microsoft ecosystem. Businesses interested in introducing intuitive digital business models need not engage in myriad testing phases in order to find the best fit AI, and can instead rely on Cognitive Services, according to the company.

Custom Vision Service, which has moved from free preview to paid preview, allows advertisers to train a classifier with their own data, while exporting their own models in order to embed them into active applications, testing them in real time regardless of device operating systems.

A functionality that is well known to anyone using Facebook or Snapchat or an Android or iOS device, the Face API helps identify specific people, allowing developers working with advertisers with legacy systems around Microsoft to create groups of facial datasets in the millions.

Microsoft says that unlike existing variations, the Face API is scalable and not limited to a handful of faces.

Also available now is the Bing Entity Search API, which allows advertisers to embed search results from Bing into any application, going so far as retrieving results within an image or a site. Utilizing latent semantic indexing, the API can offer advertisers context on people, places, things, and local businesses, including TV shows, games, books, and movies.

“A social media app could augment users’ photos with information about the locations of each photo,” said Sirosh. “A news app could provide entity snapshots for entities in the article.”

Advertisers can include location information in photos that appear in social media stories as well.

Source; campaignasia.com; 5 Mar 2018

Cyborg-ism and what it means for media

Moon Ribas has an implant in her foot that responds to seismic activity. Why should media professionals care about that?

Moon Ribas is a self-described “elective cyborg”. The Spanish artist has a device implanted in her foot that vibrates in tandem with a worldwide network of seismographs. This tremor sense is just one of a series of experiments Ribas has done to augment her senses with technology—choices that she says have made her more human, rather than less.

In this video, Campaign speaks with Ribas about her experience, and how certain people react to it. We also hear from Chris Stephenson, PHD’s regional head of strategy, who argues that creatives and media professionals can’t afford to ignore the small but growing trend toward cyborg-isation.

Source: campaignasia.com; 21 Nov 2017

Facebook says ‘sky is the limit’ for Messenger as it brings customer service tools to brand websites

Facebook is hoping to make it easier for brands to use Messenger for customer service as it looks to provide a more efficient alternative to call centres.

Facebook is making a major push on its Messenger service as it looks to provide marketers with a “more efficient” customer service alternative to call centres.

Facebook is introducing a money transfer tool for the UK market and a new chat plugin, which will allow brands to embed a customer service chatbot directly onto their website. The new services are part of the rollout of Facebook Messenger 2.2 and also include the ability for brands to start sending people sponsored messages.

There will be additional metrics for tracking Messenger performance, while Facebook is opening up its business development tools to new languages including French, Portuguese and German.

Speaking at Web Summit in Lisbon today (7 November), Facebook’s head of Messenger products Stan Chudnovsky said the “sky was the limit” in terms of the chat platform’s transition into a customer service tool. He believes consumers have grown tired of the traditional ways of dealing with a complaint or product query and are looking for a better way to talk to brands.

Chudnovsky explained: “At the moment, you have to call someone up then press ‘one’, then press ‘three’, then press ‘four’ while being put on and off hold. It’s a pain for millions of people.

“The phone model isn’t efficient enough anymore and it’s a lot more efficient for them to be on Facebook Messenger. The sky really is the limit in terms of how big this can become.”

Brands including Argos, Aviva and Air France are already signed up to Messenger and offer a customer service chatbot. But Chudnovsky said one of the key challenges is to make it clear when users are actually talking to humans.

“We have to be transparent and make sure people know whether it’s a bot or a human answering them. The separation has to be very clear,” he added.

Where Messenger can shine is in providing context, he claimed. Rather than having to log onto multiple websites or check emails, Chudnovsky said Messenger can provide a “permanent context” so users are always in the same session and can easily look at records of communication.

He also answered a question on whether Facebook tailors advertising by listening into people’s conversations through the microphones on their devices amid accusations it is doing just that. Chudnovsky dismissed them, concluding: “The human brain is biased to jump to the simplest explanation.

“The reality is people are using Messenger so much nowadays that the possibility of something they talk about then appearing as advertising in their browser is a lot higher. We’re not using anybody’s microphone or listening into conversations to target advertising, I can promise you.”

Source: marketingweek.com; 7 Nov 2017

Chatbots and the rise of conversational marketing

In an ideal world, every brand would be able to dedicate enough resources to give each customer the time and attention they need. Nothing can be as annoying for a customer as a bad or lacklustre customer service experience, where they feel that they were not being given the attention they deserved.

If a brand gives too many of their customers this kind of experience, they may find that they don’t have as many customers after a while.

In a survey of Fortune 500 marketing professionals carried out by LiveWorld, 52% of respondents thought that advances in technology would allow them to engage in meaningful two-way conversations with their customers. Social media, messaging apps and, in particular, chatbots are seen as effective tools to usher in ‘conversational marketing’.

“Conversational marketing is disrupting the brand playbook as consumers spend more time in messaging apps,” said Peter Friedman, Chairman and CEO, LiveWorld.

“Marketers must employ two-way dialogue tactics to boost consumer engagement, be in the moment, and foster lasting customer relationships.”

Conversational marketing is the shift away from brands trying to dictate to customers how to think and feel about products and services. Instead, through the use of chatbots, auto-responders and tech that integrates live agents, brands can actually converse with their customers in real-time, leading to personalised experiences and lots of lovely data on consumer intentions and behaviours.

Conversing with customers

55% of the LiveWorld respondents wanted to deploy messaging apps for the purpose of delivering better customer service. However, currently less than a third are using the technology to try have a positive impact on customer experience. 43% have deployed messaging apps in order to further marketing campaign goals.

Chatbots are the tool that most marketers anticipate allowing them to talk more with their customers. 40% anticipated that their company would begin to use more chatbots in the coming year.

“Chatbots are altering the future of brand marketing campaigns with conversations between brands and the always-on consumer,” says Friedman.

“Early adoption of messaging platforms enables natural and authentic engagement with customers and provides brand marketers with a competitive advantage.”

Source: marketingtechnews.net; 14 Nov 2017

Hear What Voice Means for Brands

If a picture paints 1,000 words, how long will it take for Alexa to reel off my flight search results? Is that better than seeing them on my screen? To understand what a technology means for society, business and brands, it’s vital that we understand its limitations as well as its profound new possibilities. Voice is a naturally fast and sometimes magical way to input information, but as it currently stands it’s not always the best means to getting valuable outcomes.

Of course, that hasn’t stopped us from embracing voice. While many now avoid talking on the phone like it’s the plague in favour of exclusively texting, we are at the same time excitedly talking into smart machines at every chance we get. Regardless of the logic, voice now seems to be a natural and desirable way for consumers to navigate information, so we must ask: What does it mean for brands?

I think we need to take both a short- and long-term look at voice technologies. Amara’s Law declares that the short-term effects of technology are often overstated, while its long-term impact is often underestimated. It is in this important long-term context that I believe the world of voice has a lot of promise.

Short-term Disillusionment

The current obsession with voice changing everything is a little naive. It shows a degree of familiarity with technology, but only a passing understanding of humanity.

Quite honestly, I just don’t buy the predictions. Gartner thinks that by 2020, 30% of searches will be done without a screen (Gartner, October 2016). Activate predicts that the connected speaker will be the fastest adopted product ever, reaching 50% of U.S. households in the next three years (Activate, October 2017). Well, I’ve used and loved multiple voice-activated devices for two years, and I still just don’t buy it.

As Executive Vice President and Head of Innovation at Zenith USA innovation is literally in my job title, but watching me use voice is a bit like watching my parents use a mouse for the first time — you can see a degree of wonder, but also that I’m using all sorts of brain muscles differently, and for the first time. The reality is that, for most people trained in the old way, voice is hard and the payoff not great.

Most articles about voice commerce seem to be written by those who have never used it. Buying things from a device is not easy. It’s not a faster way to get a pizza or a better way to procure shampoo; it’s a long and uncertain journey filled with concerns and friction. If all we ever knew was voice technology, the invention of the website would be our saviour. There are great use cases — the weather, alarm clocks, the news, music (if you are not picky or can actually remember songs names) and a few more, but most of the time, commerce simply isn’t it.

In the next three years or so, I just don’t see life changing much thanks to voice technologies, despite the fact that millions of households may have bought them. Some people will of course continue to shout out demands for Alexa to order laundry detergent off Amazon, and others will dabble with ordering an Uber while they get dressed — just to see what it’s like. Perhaps a tiny percentage of households, for a tiny percentage of their purchases, will order this way, but to say that it’s the entire future of commerce or branding shows a lack of understanding.

Long-term Potential

If we take whole swathes of industries today, from hailing taxis to paying energy bills, ordering food to buying clothes, finding flights to booking hotels, the reality is that seeing is better than hearing. Voice is great for micro transactions and a magical way to check your credit card bill, find out the remaining data on your monthly phone plan, or pay off bills quickly, but in its current state, it simply isn’t the future of retail.

Combined with other emerging technologies, however, I see where the long-term potential of voice will come into play. A bigger disrupter to the overall retail industry is subscription shopping, the ultimate frictionless experience: The idea that you won’t ever need to engage anyone or anything because you merely have items arriving automatically each month or week. The magical piece to this — awareness — is where voice can truly come into play.

This is ultimately the same quandary faced by all brands: First, making sure the product is top of mind and that awareness is high; second, that the brand is liked and understood, and finally, that the products are good enough to be sure people want to use them time and time again.

As emerging technologies like Artificial Intelligence begin to reach their true potential, it will power a whole new world of voice. In the long-term, these technologies will become a new operating system, a new gateway and glue to all of the devices that we own. We will see screens operate around us, with TV ads that ask us to speak to our Alexa, and then allow us to ask for maps to stores and locations to update magically in our cars.

In the future, the next generation will have grown ups using voice as the primary way to interact with devices, and therefore people will build business models and products based on this construct. General AI will make voice devices feel human and rich and, above all else, smart. We will trust our devices, and therefore automation will remove many of our brand choices. But even in this crazy new world, we still need to know that a W Hotel is trendy, that a Cadillac is a great car, that Domino’s makes great pizza. The importance of branding won’t change. The importance of advertising and marketing remain. Like with all new ad technologies, we will just need to find that added layer of humanity to reach through these new devices to the consumer.

Tom Goodwin is the Executive Vice President and Head of Innovation at Zenith in the U.S. His role is to understand new technology, behaviours and platforms, and ideate and implement solutions for clients that take advantage of the new opportunities these make possible.

Source: mediavillage.com; 13 Nov 2017

Why Amazon is investing so heavily in voice

All computer interfaces up to today have been unnatural, inhuman and discriminatory, the company’s chief technology officer says.

If you think about it, all computer interfaces have been designed for communication with the computer, not with humans, Amazon’s chief technology officer Werner Vogels said at Web Summit.

These are unnatural and inhuman interfaces, and they are discriminatory, Vogels told the conference in Lisbon Thursday.

“Let’s take the International Rice Research Institute in Manila as an example. They know everything about rice and they work with farmers in the region to improve crop yields. They have built a digital webpage with all this crucial information but no one was using it because the farmers don’t own computers. So, they put a voice interface over it so farmers could call in and describe their patch of land. It has helped greatly improve crop yields,” Vogels said.

People who have bought Amazon Echo devices love them, their reviews say so, he continued. “They use them for every mundane task possible because it’s effortless.”

One customer who has dementia wrote that Alexa had given him his memory back. That he could ask it for the date 20 times a day and it would give him the correct answer 20 times, without getting angry.

But Amazon doesn’t want the world to confine itself to its Echo devices. “The device itself isn’t that smart. All of that lives in the cloud. Alexa is a voice service based on a platform that does all the work,” Vogels said.

Brands and developers could even forego Amazon’s skills kit and use Amazon Polly, its life-like speech service.

“Polly converts text to life-like speech. It can be fully managed, it has 47 voices and speaks 24 languages. Duolingo, the language learning app is based on Polly,” he said.

Polly allows control over the tone, volume, context and different pronunciations, Vogels demonstrated. “It can be used to build voice chatbots, not just Alexa.”

Amazon is investing in developing all this because it believes that the future lies in a human interface to our digital systems.

“I truly believe a voice interface to digital systems will completely revolutionise the way we build these systems and it will open these systems to everyone in the world and not just digital natives,” Vogels concluded.

Source: campaignasia.com; 10 Nov 2017

Artificial intelligence in action: 5 brands brilliantly executing AI

You’ve heard all the forecasts: Robots are going to take away our jobs (possibly even within five years, according to new PricewaterhouseCoopers research) as artificial intelligence turns the world on its head. But of course, AI isn’t really the “next big thing” because it’s already here.

Earlier this year, The Economist surveyed 200 executives and found that 75% of them plan to implement AI in their businesses within the next three years. Google and Microsoft have also both announced shifts from mobile-first to AI-first this year and the skillset of Amazon’s Alexa has tripled over two quarters.

AI will obviously play a huge role in the future, but one thing the technology offers marketers today is a way to offer superior customer experiences. Looking beyond the tech giants, here are five consumer brands utilizing AI in innovative and interesting ways.

1. Sephora

An early adopter of AI, Sephora had a chatbot dispensing beauty advice on Kik a year and a half ago. Choosing cosmetics can be overwhelming—searching “red lipstick” on Sephora.com brings up nearly 200 results—and the chatbot made things easier, starting with a quiz about consumers’ product preferences. The chatbot shared both content and product suggestions, making the sales tactic seem less aggressive. The brand gained some valuable insights, such as the idea that bots aren’t as complicated as they seem and work best with a single objective, and saw enough engagement from that experiment that it’s since launched more chatbots on Messenger.

2. Starbucks

Starbucks is one of many apps integrated into Amazon’s Echo, allowing users to place and pay for their orders with Alexa. The coffee giant also has its own voice assistant, My Starbucks Barista, built into its mobile app.

My Starbucks Barista, which rolled out in beta in January, has all the skills of a human barista, such as taking and modifying orders, and confirming pick-up locations. And since you have to register for Starbucks’ app, its digital assistant will probably even spell your name right.

3. Lloyds Bank

According to March Equifax research, 56% of UK consumers consider biometrics more secure than traditional passwords for online banking. We recognize the irony there, but the fact remains that people want more security around their finances.

Partnering with Microsoft, Lloyds Banking Group customers will be authenticated not by passwords, but by their devices, through Windows Hello, which is designed to recognize faces (not images) and fingerprints. The partnership, the first of its kind in the UK, will begin testing later this year for Lloyds Bank, Halifax and Bank of Scotland customers.

4. Lowe’s

A trip to Lowe’s—the average store is slightly bigger than two football fields, at 116,000 square feet—can be great for your Fitbit score, but difficult if you’re looking to get in and out quickly. Last year, the innovative home improvement retailer introduced the “LoweBot” to select stores in San Francisco. In addition to helping customers find things and answering customer service questions, the rolling kiosk also monitors inventory in real-time as it cruises the aisles, providing Lowe’s with invaluable data about shopping trends.

5. Disney

Disney, a brand that’s already using AI to organize product SKUs, is training artificial neural networks, computing systems modelled after animal brains, to mimic human brains and recognize what makes a story appealing. Using data from Q+A site Quora, Disney researchers used the site’s upvotes and downvotes to train the neural networks to determine what makes some stories more popular than others. At some point in the not-too-distant future, look out for a Mickey Mouse doll that can tell your kids a better bedtime story than you can.

So what does this all mean?

Though AI sounds like a futuristic concept, brands like Sephora and Disney, not to mention Amazon and Google, show that it’s already the new normal. And while it may mean that robots will pour our coffee down the line, they’re already ordering it for us.

AI is crucial for marketers to master simply because it’s become one of many tools to delivering great customer experiences. As the technology becomes more widespread, it will undoubtedly be utilized in even more ways in an even greater variety of fields.

Source: clickz.com; 17 Oct 2017

Amazon teaches Alexa to speak Hinglish. Apple’s Siri is next

Amazon has worked with third-party developers who have built more than 10,000 extensions for Alexa -- from summoning cabs through Ola to recommending Deepika Padukone movies to finding the perfect recipe for Hyderabad biryani.

Amazon has worked with third-party developers who have built more than 10,000 extensions for Alexa — from summoning cabs through Ola to recommending Deepika Padukone movies to finding the perfect recipe for Hyderabad biryani.

The US e-commerce company is beginning to ship Echo speakers in India this week, about a year after bringing them to foreign markets like the UK and Germany. In that time, teams of linguists, speech scientists, developers and engineers have given a decidedly local makeover to the Alexa virtual assistant that powers the speakers.

This Alexa uses a blend of Hindi and English and speaks with an unmistakably Indian accent. She knows Independence Day is August 15th, not July 4th, and wishes listeners “Happy Diwali and a prosperous New Year!” She also refers to the living room as ‘drawing room’ and can add jeera (cumin), haldi (turmeric) and atta (flour) to your shopping list. Then there are her cricket jokes. (Don’t ask.)

“We wanted our devices to talk, walk and feel Indian,” said Parag Gupta, head of product management for Amazon Devices in India. “Alexa is not a visiting American, she has a very Indian personality.”

Amazon isn’t alone. Technology giants from Apple Inc to Google are targeting this nation of 1.3 billion people by training virtual assistants in the heterogeneity of its languages and subcultures. Though many people understand American or British English, they’re more comfortable with assistants who sound more like them.

Hinglish borrows parts of both languages, including the grammar. In some cases words are fused together to mean something different. The key is for the digital assistant to understand a sentence using a mixture of both, yet grasp what they mean and their context.

Source: economictimes.indiatimes.com; 31 Oct 2017

Voice assistants, search and the future of advertising

Over the past few years, voice activated search has come a long way.

When Apple first integrated its voice assistant, Siri, into the iPhone 4S in 2011, it was considered more of a gimmick than anything else. Six years on, and a report by ClickZ and Marin Software reveals that 7% of marketers now mark voice search and digital assistants as top priorities in their marketing plans.

Interestingly, 4% of marketers reviewed in the same report also stated that they would be prioritising ‘smart hubs’ in 2017.

Since the launch of Amazon’s Alexa, so called ‘smart hubs’ have grown in popularity with consumers. Even more so, there is now a demand from consumers to have these as part of their ‘connected’ homes.

As AI technology gets smarter and smarter, it’s evident that we are shifting into a voice led revolution. ComScore said that by 2020, 50% of all searches will be voice searches and Google’s recent statistics show that 83% of people surveyed agreed that voice search will make it easier to search for things anytime they want.

Speaking to a machine may have felt unnatural and futuristic only a few years ago, but consumers are now embracing the revolution. Smart hubs have championed the growing possibilities of search, and they have now become genuine channels for daily activities, as consumers are excited and impressed by the speed and efficiency with which these devices can help them complete day-to-day tasks.

With this in mind, it’s clear that there is potential for advertisers and brand marketers to make use of voice assistants.

The opportunity for marketers and advertisers

In terms of search functionality, marketers need to be aware of the varying capabilities of each smart hub on the market, as each one works slightly differently and is powered by a different search engine. With each brand’s product portfolio continuously growing, this becomes even more of a challenge.

Amazon’s Echo, which has been on the market the longest, operates with Bing, whereas Google Home relies on Google to answer questions. Apple’s highly anticipated HomePod, due out in December, will have Siri integrated into the device.

The efficiencies of each search engine vary, and for marketers, these characteristics are crucial in deciding how their brands can attract the right attention.

Understandably, we need to remember that marketers are still testing the waters on how smart hubs can be implemented in marketing plans in the most seamless way. After all, as these voice assistants become part of a consumer’s connected home – and at the centre of the family – it’s natural that consumers may be slightly reticent when it comes to inviting advertisers and brands into this personal space.

This was certainly the case for Google, who was immediately hit with criticism after playing what sounded like an advert for Disney’s Beauty and the Beast film, during Google Home’s ‘What’s My Day Like?’ feature.

Similarly, there was disdain after Amazon introduced sponsored audio messages before and after conversations with Alexa. It’s inevitable that there will eventually be paid opportunities on voice assistants, but they need to be able to integrate these messages in a way that doesn’t interfere with the user experience.

How brands and marketers are tapping in

Voice assistants are now part of the omnichannel consumer experience. If used correctly, they are an effective – and natural – conduit between consumer and brand.

Although Burger King’s ‘Whopper’ TV advert caused a stir by hijacking Google Home devices by prompting the speaker to search for the definition of the Whopper burger, it won a Grand Prix at this year’s Cannes Lions, and also helped the brand win overall Creative Marketer of the Year.

This nifty hack was hailed ‘the best abuse of technology’ for generating a direct response between consumer and company, and sparked conversation and awareness around the brand and campaign.

This was clearly a stunt ad, and not a long-term use of the voice activated technology. However, its success highlights the opportunities available to advertisers – and interest from consumers – in engaging with this technology.

Could this be a sign that the future of advertising and marketing is heading in the direction of voice search?

So, what could the future look like? At mporium, we know that many marketers have mastered search-based advertising, and are reaping the rewards. Soon, we could see brands bidding for the top spots on voice-activated results.

We may even see brands collaborating with the technology companies to integrate special offers that would be delivered via voice assistants, or suggest alternative solutions to specific queries.

What the future holds remains to be seen. However, it’s clear that as the technology behind voice activated search undeniably progresses, marketers will find a way to adapt to this new search reality that presents itself in the form of voice assistants.

Source: marketingtechnews.net; 4 Sep 2017

The Next Generation of Emoji Will Be Based on Your Facial Expressions

There’s no faking your feelings with these social icons.

An app called Polygram uses AI to automatically capture your responses to friends’ photos and videos.

A new app is trying to make it simpler to help you react to photos and videos that your friends post online—it’s using AI to capture your facial expressions and automatically translate them into a range of emoji faces.

Polygram, which is free and available only for the iPhone for now, is a social app that lets you share things like photos, videos, and messages. Unlike on, say, Facebook, though, where you have a small range of pre-set reactions to choose from beyond clicking a little thumbs-up icon, Polygram uses a neural network that runs locally on the phone to figure out if you’re smiling, frowning, bored, embarrassed, surprised, and more.

Marcin Kmiec, one of Polygram’s cofounders, says the app’s AI works by capturing your face with the front-facing camera on the phone and analysing sequences of images as quickly as possible, rather than just looking at specific points on the face like your pupils and nose. This is done directly on the phone, using the iPhone’s graphics processing unit, he says.

When you look at a post in the app (for now the posts seem to consist of a suspicious amount of luxury vacation spots, fancy cars, and women in tight clothing), you see a small yellow emoji on the bottom of the display, its expression changing along with your real one. There’s a slight delay—20 milliseconds, which is just barely noticeable—between what you’re expressing on your face and what shows up in the app. The app records your response (or responses, if your expression changes a few times) in a little log of emoji on the side of the screen, along with those of others who’ve already looked at the same post.

The app is clearly meant to appeal to those who really care about how they’re perceived on social media: users can see a tally of the emoji reactions to each photo or video they post to the app, as well as details about who looked at the post, how long they looked at it, and where they’re located. This might be helpful for some mega-users, but could turn off those who are more wary about how their activity is tracked, even when it’s anonymized.

And, as many app makers know, it’s hard to succeed in social media; for every Instagram or Snapchat there are countless ones that fail to catch on. (Remember Secret? Or Path? Or Yik Yak? Or Google+?) Polygram’s founders say they’re concentrating on using the technology in their own app for now, but they also think it could be useful in other kinds of apps, like telemedicine, where it could be used to gauge a patient’s reaction to a doctor or nurse, for instance. Eventually, they say, they may release software tools that let other developers come up with their own applications for the technology.

Source: technologyreview.com; 28 August 2017