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Building AI that doesn’t give your users ‘algorithmic fatigue’

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Building AI that doesn't give your users 'algorithmic fatigue'

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Consumers today are more AI-savvy than you think. Customers use their best interaction experience in one domain as a baseline expectation in others. This means that, when it comes to AI, every single business is in competition with the global giants, including Amazon and Netflix. AI is no longer a nice-to-have feature; it’s a must-have — and poor AI has become a real threat to businesses.

When the algorithm fails to live up to people’s expectations of the user experience and doesn’t deliver the service its users want, the people using the system end up feeling annoyed, frustrated, and tired. New research my team was involved in has identified this phenomenon, and it’s hurting businesses everywhere.

Consumers’ patience is running out. We are at a tipping point where companies in many industries need to step up and build better AI to survive. Indeed, AI is no longer just about the technology; it’s about how customers experience your brand.

In my 15 years working as a consultant for digital businesses, I’ve worked to resolve many of the pain points that come with corporations implementing AI. Here are four things I’ve learned about realigning any organization to build better AI.

1. Focus where it counts

One of our clients — a Nordic data-intensive public authority serving millions of people — had been successful in deploying various forms of AI-powered chatbots in customer interactions across their operations. While their customers appreciated these chatbots, the chatbots soon turned out to be a bit of a distraction for the business. The most significant opportunity lay instead in applying AI to the company’s own back-office operations, the service that ultimately produced the real customer value.

This called for a different, more complex type of cooperation within the organization. The project required new cross-functional teams, and as the firm was not quite mature enough to support these efforts, AI implementation needed to be prioritized as a top management issue, coordinated as a company-wide, top-down effort.

From a business strategy perspective, AI brings the most impact when it is used to create or optimize distinctive capabilities (sources of competitive advantage) instead of table-stakes (non-differentiating must-haves). Introducing AI into the core processes of your business is hard but it may also be critical if you want to change your competitive game.

AI development also requires constant iteration and it is best done in cross-functional teams. In other words, AI is a focused, company-wide effort. The idea of cross-functional teams for AI may seem simple and compatible with existing organizational structures, but in practice, that is seldom the case. Many attempts fail. AI must therefore be involved in business strategy work from the get-go: It should be recognized as a potential source of threats and opportunities in the business environment and acknowledged as a force that can influence the entire future trajectory of your organization.

2. Think long-term

A large European grocery chain we work with first started applying AI in marketing automation, a non-differentiating must-have. Soon, however, they realized the serious business possibilities with AI and began to view artificial intelligence as an indispensable in-house capability. Rather than attempt to calculate ROI for a specific business case, they saw hiring the right talent and building other key enablers for AI as an investment that would pay off over time through its impact on the core business. This took patience and foresight. The firm’s AI capabilities have since taken years to build, but it now has sophisticated AI handling assortment management, one of the distinctive capabilities and sources of competitiveness and profitability in the high-volume grocery business. The investment also better positioned the company for the future: Its AI capabilities have proven a key asset in the battle for overall market share brought about by the strong growth in grocery ecommerce.

Regardless of what you build or buy, or of the talent composition of your teams, it’s important to secure control of critical resources and ensure you build AI capabilities in-house over time. That means it’s crucial to reframe AI as an investment not as a cost. Organizational capabilities in AI may take years to build, but the business benefits are likely to become substantial over time. Once in place, AI capabilities can show a very high business yield — and can do so quickly. Even large companies can become agile to the point where new AI applications can be created in as little as one week.

3. Loosen the reins

A global industrial company we work with has been quite successful in building AI applications on a local business line or product level using cross-functional teams. The problem, however, is that these AI capabilities are now scattered across the group in pockets of excellence. This works well on a local level, but it also means a lot of potential and efficiency are lost due to the lack of learning and capability development across the units. To then scale the business impact of AI while retaining the strong business anchoring calls for building out a centralized mechanism for developing general AI capabilities. The aim is not to centralize control of application development but to best support such development in an overarching, coordinated way.

Purposeful AI development requires both direction and degrees of freedom. Cross-functional teams for AI must stay focused and dedicated but must also have enough autonomy to carry out the exploration and development needed to build AI. There has to be a continuous awareness of what the desired business outcomes are but also an openness to explore the possibilities and detours that inevitably come up in all AI exploration and development.

Organizing around AI is about balancing managed expertise and local application. The hub and spokes approach is one way to enable cross-functional teams at scale while still retaining control of the general capability. The optimal setup is a balance between a centralized and a distributed approach. If your AI capabilities are too centralized, they end up detached from the business; if they’re too distributed, they fail to create impact. You should organize AI development with a hub-and-spokes model, according to the overall AI maturity of your organization, and make sure you balance business goals with your teams’ freedom to experiment.

4. Show, don’t tell

A large luxury fashion retail group we worked with wanted to bring in advanced analytics across all its core business processes, including marketing, purchasing, merchandising, and pricing. The initiative faced fierce resistance in some functions that operated on human experience and intuition. We built ground-level AI solutions that helped doubters at their own trade and visibly improved their performance. One such solution was a machine learning–based segmentation tool that revealed a novel, clear distinction between brand loyalists and the customers who expected to be served with variety. Our solution also demonstrated to the stakeholders the benefits of working with such segmentation. This then significantly helped build understanding and buy-in for the overall agenda.

Building with AI is to a large extent about creating the right organizational mindset. AI solutions aim to augment or replace human cognitive tasks and decision-making, and such intrusions on human intuition typically face varying degrees and forms of resistance in an organization. One way to overcome this is to let your people see the realized benefits of AI for themselves, in their own work. AI can streamline processes, free up time and space, and help make the work more strategic and interesting. When people are involved in the process and are gradually shown these realized benefits of AI, they tend to become invested in making sure that AI flourishes in the organization. From there on, the rest then tends to fall into place.

Olof Hoverfält is a leading Strategy & Business Design expert at the technology consultancy Reaktor.

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Lucidworks: Chatbots and recommendations boost online brand loyalty

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Who is loyal

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Pandemic-related shutdowns led consumers to divert the bulk of their shopping to online — and many of those shoppers are now hesitant about returning to stores as businesses begin to open back up. A recent survey of 800 consumers conducted by cloud company Lucidworks found that 59% of shoppers plan to either avoid in-person shopping as much as possible,  or visit in-person stores less often than before the pandemic.

Above: Shoppers across the U.S. and U.K. agree that high-quality products, personalized recommendations, and excellent customer service are the top three reasons they’re brand-loyal.

Image Credit: Lucidworks

As the world stabilizes, shoppers want brands to provide a multi-faceted shopping experience — expanded chatbot capabilities, diverse recommendations, and personalized experiences that take into account personal preferences and history, Lucidworks found in its study. More than half of shoppers in the survey, 55%, said they use a site’s chatbot on every visit. American shoppers use chatbots more than their counterparts in the United Kingdom, at 70%.

The majority of shoppers, 70%, use chatbots for customer service, and 53% said they want a chatbot to help them find specific products or check product compatibility. A little less than half, or 48%, said they use chatbots to find more information about a product, and 42% use chatbots to find policies such as shipping information and how to get refunds.

A quarter of shoppers will leave the website to seek information elsewhere if the chatbot doesn’t give them the answer. Brands that deploy chatbots capable of going beyond basic FAQs and can perform product and content discovery will provide the well-rounded chatbot experience shoppers expect, Lucidworks said.

Respondents also pointed to the importance of content recommendations. The survey found that almost a third of shoppers said they find recommendations for “suggested content” useful, and 61% of shoppers like to do research via reviews on the brand’s website where they’ll be purchasing from. A little over a third — 37% — of shoppers use marketplaces such as Amazon, Google Shopping, and eBay for their research.

Brands should try to offer something for every step in the shopping journey, from research to purchase to support, to keep shoppers on their sites longer. How online shopping will look in coming years is being defined at this very moment as the world reopens. Brands that are able to understand a shopper’s goal in the moment and deliver a connected experience that understands who shoppers are and what they like are well-positioned for the future, Lucidworks said.

Lucidworks used a self-serve survey tool, Pollfish, in late May 2021 to survey 800 consumers over the age of 18—400 in the U.K. and 400 in the U.S.—to understand how shoppers interact with chatbots, product and content recommendations, where they prefer to do research, and plans for future in-store shopping.

Read the full U.S./U.K. Consumer Survey Report from Lucidworks.

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Breakroom teams up with High Fidelity to bring 3D audio to online meetings

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Breakroom teams up with High Fidelity to bring 3D audio to online meetings

Elevate your enterprise data technology and strategy at Transform 2021.


Social meeting space Breakroom has integrated High Fidelity‘s 3D audio into its 3D virtual world for social and business events.

The deal is a convergence of some virtual world pioneers who have made their mark on the development of virtual life. Philip Rosedale is the CEO of High Fidelity, and he also launched Second Life in 2003. And Sine Wave Entertainment, the creator of Breakroom, got its start as a content brand in Second Life before it spun out to create its own virtual meeting spaces for real world events.

Adam Frisby, chief product officer and cofounder of Sine Wave, said in our interview conducted inside Breakroom that the High Fidelity spatial audio will help Breakroom create a triple-A quality experience in a virtual world.

“The real benefit of having 3D audio in a virtual world like this is you can have lots of conversations going on simultaneously,” said Frisby. “3D audio is the only way to replicate the real-world experience in an online environment. You can have a 150-person conference and end up with 10 groups of people talking at the same time. That has helped us with engagement.”

Above: Breakroom lets an event have dozens of simultaneous conversations where people don’t talk over each other, thanks to High Fidelity.

Image Credit: Sine Wave

Most online events get engagement times of 20 or 30 minutes. But Breakroom’s average events, ranging from 600 to 1,000 attendees, have engagement times of an hour and 40 minutes, Frisby said.

Sine Wave’s Breakroom draws heavily on lessons learned in Second Life to create a frictionless, mass market, user-friendly virtual world.

“You can hear everything better with High Fidelity,” said Rosedale, in our interview in Breakroom. “Breakroom combines low-latency server-side video and spatial audio in a way that lets you hold an event like it’s in the real world.”

High Fidelity is a real-time communications company. Its mission is to build technologies that power more human experiences in today’s digital world. The company’s patented spatial audio technology, originally developed for its VR software platform, adds immersive, high-quality voice chat to any application — for groups of any size. You can really tell how close you are to someone in a High Fidelity space when they talk to you, as voices become fainter the farther away they are.

“We are super excited about this general direction and we wound up building the audio subsystem and extracting that first,” Rosedale said. “It works well where there is no possibility of face-to-face meetings.”

breakroom 3

Above: I could hear Philip Rosedale’s voice clearly in this conversation in Breakroom.

Image Credit: Sine Wave

Spatial audio in a 3D virtual world helps encourage spontaneous conversations into a fun, productive setting, in a way that flatscreen video calls and webinars simply can’t match, Frisby said. It’s easy to tell in Breakroom who is speaking to you, and from what direction.

It took me a little while to figure out how to unmute my voice. Rosedale was jumping up and down while we were talking.

“It’s all remote rendered. And that means that we can bring people in on a variety of platforms,” Frisby said. “No matter what your target hardware is, you can actually get in here and still get good high fidelity. It’s a good quality 3D rendering experience here regardless of what device you’re on.”

I asked Rosedale if he could hear me chewing lettuce, which sounded very loud on my headsets. But he said no. It definitely helps if you have good headsets with 3D audio.

Breakroom is being used by organizations like Stanford University, the United Nations, and The Economist. Breakroom runs on any device with a Chrome browser, offering good 3D graphics and audio quality, with no installation required.

Frisby said that Breakroom is also a way for companies to enable remote workers to gather and meet each other in more relaxed environments as if it were an intermediate space between online-only environments and going back to work in offices.

breakroom 4

Above: Breakroom and High Fidelity are enabling conferences with spatial audio.

Image Credit: Sine Wave

Its full suite of communication tools includes voice chat, instant messenger, and in-world email. It has video conferencing, media sharing, and desktop sharing tools. It has a diverse range of fully customizable avatars and scenes. You can get around just by pointing and clicking on the environment.

It also has event management tools to facilitate conversation and agenda flow, branded interactive exhibition stands, and private meeting rooms, available for rent by sponsors. It has environments including dance clubs, beach and mountain retreats, casual games, quiz shows, and live music/comedy shows. It has an integrated shop where brands can upload and sell their content to customers for real cash.

It gives you the ability to seamlessly license and import any item from the Unity Asset Store (Sine Wave is a verified partner of Unity). The iOS and Android version of Breakroom is in closed beta and Breakroom for consoles and the Oculus Quest 2 coming soon. It has LinkedIn and Eventbrite integration, including ticket sales. It also has a self-serve portal for customers to quickly customize and configure their organizations’ Breakroom, as well as sub-licensing agreements which enable Breakroom customers to host and monetize events and experiences to their own customer base.

Frisby said it has been a technical challenge so that people don’t get kicked out of the room, but his team has managed to refine the technology during the pandemic. He thinks conferences are great use cases for the technology because so many people come together simultaneously and push the tech to the limit.

As for High Fidelity, Rosedale believes that the education market will come around, and the whole world will eventually move to better spatial experiences.

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Moderne helps companies automate their code migration and fixes

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https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uR9EPALJKjI&feature=emb_title

Elevate your enterprise data technology and strategy at Transform 2021.


While every company may well be a software company these days, the software development sphere has evolved greatly over the past decade to get to this stage, with developer operations (DevOps), agile, and cloud-native considerations at the forefront.

Moreover, with APIs and open source software now serving as critical components of most modern software stacks, tracking code changes and vulnerabilities introduced by external developers can be a major challenge. This is something fledgling startup Moderne is setting out to solve with a platform that promises to automatically “fix, upgrade, and secure code” in minutes, including offering support for framework or API migrations and applying CVE (common vulnerabilities and exposures) patches.

The Seattle-based company, which will remain in private beta for the foreseeable future, today announced a $4.7 million seed round of funding to bring its SaaS product to market. The investment was led by True Ventures, with participation from a slew of angel and VC backers, including GitHub CTO Jason Warner; Datadog cofounder and CEO Olivier Pomel; Coverity cofounder Andy Chou; Mango Capital; and Overtime.vc.

Version control

If a third-party API provider or open source framework is updated, with the older version no longer actively supported, companies need to ensure their software remains secure and compliant. “It requires revving dependencies [updating version numbers in configuration files] and changing all the call sites for the APIs that have changed — it’s tedious, repetitive, but hasn’t been automated,” Moderne CEO and cofounder Jonathan Schneider told VentureBeat.

Moderne is built on top of OpenRewrite, an open source automated code refactoring tool for Java that Schneider developed at Netflix several years ago. While developers can already use the built-in refactoring and semantic search features included in integrated development environments (IDEs), if they need to perform a migration or apply a CVE patch, they have to follow multiple manual steps. Moreover, they can only work on a single repository at a time.

“So if an organization has hundreds of microservices — which is not uncommon for even very small organizations, and larger ones have thousands — each repository needs to be loaded into [the] IDE and operated one by one,” Schneider said. “A developer can spend weeks or months doing this across the codebase.”

OpenRewrite, on the other hand, provides “building blocks” — individual search and refactoring operations — that can be composed into an automated sequence called recipes anyone can use. Moderne’s offering complements OpenRewrite and allows companies to apply these recipes in bulk to their codebases.

Above: Moderne screenshot

Enterprises, specifically, can accumulate vast amounts of code. One of Moderne’s early product design partners is a “large financial institution” that incorporates some 250 million lines of Java code — or “one-eighth of all GitHub Java code,” Schneider noted, adding that this is actually on the “low to medium” side for what a typical enterprise might have.

“Some of this code is obsolete (e.g. accrued through historical acquisitions), some is under rapid development (e.g. mobile apps) — but the majority represents super valuable business assets, such as ATM software and branch management software,” Schneider said.

And let’s say a company decides to redeploy developers internally to work on rapid development projects — it still needs to consider the core software components that underpin the business and need to be maintained. Moderne automates the code migration and CVE patching process, freeing developers to work on other mission-critical projects.

When Moderne eventually goes to market, it will adopt an open core business model, with a free plan for the open source community and individual users, while the premium SaaS plan will support larger codebases and teams with additional features for collaboration.

The company said it will use its fresh cash injection to grow a “vibrant open source community for OpenRewrite,” expand its internal engineering team, and bolster its SaaS product ahead of launch.

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