Over the past few years the CES trade show has become a familiar post-holidays pilgrimage for many of the country's biggest marketers. They see the event as a way to get a sneak peek at the latest tech gadgets and technologies that can help them engage with their customers. This year marketing executives from companies such as Coca-Cola, Unilever, Johnson & Johnson, Campbell Soup and PepsiCo Inc. made their way to Las Vegas for the gathering. The convention was jam-packed with everything from self-driving cars to robots that play chess to Procter & Gamble's air-freshener spray that can connect with Alphabet Inc.'s Nest home to automatically release pleasant scents in the home. But there was one category that seemed to especially win over marketers: virtual assistants.
The term "machine learning" covers a grab bag of algorithms, techniques, and technology that are by now pretty much everywhere in modern life. However, machine intelligence has recently started to be used not just for identifying problems but to build better products. Amongst the first is the world's only beers brewed with the help of machine intelligence, which went on sale a few weeks ago. The machine learning algorithms uses a combination of reinforcement learning and bayesian optimisation to assist the brewer in deciding how to change the recipe of the beer, with the algorithms learning from experience and customer feedback. Perhaps the most obvious intrusion of machine learning into the physical world is the voice recognition that drives Apple's Siri, or Amazon's Alexa.
At the recent VentureBeat MobileBeat conference on July 13, a panel of executives assembled to discuss the impact of emerging technologies on the future of commerce. Three executives from high-profile companies - Holger Luedorf, senior vice president of Business Development at Postmates; Nichele Lindstrom, director of Digital Marketing at Whole Foods Market; and Eric Moujaes, senior director of Global Digital Product at McDonald's - chimed in and gave their insights on what they believe to be the most overhyped and promising technologies that will impact commerce in the near term. Their perspectives fell on the spectrum of the slightly surprising (drones will not be the future delivery vehicle of choice) as well as in alignment with current'hot' trends (chat bots look to be in like flynn). All three executives' opinions shed light on the potential future of our role as consumers and on businesses as providers in a'brave new world'. With companies like Amazon and Google forecasting the use of drones for delivery (any day now), people may be expecting these unmanned aerial vehicles to be a serious part of the future of commerce, but McDonald's Eric Moujaes believes differently.
Editor's note: This guest column was written by Applause cofounder and general manager of emerging market products Roy Solomon. Bots are all the rage this year. Often called "conversational agents" or "dialog systems," researchers and programmers around the world are creating assistants that help people with tasks like with travel arrangements, finding food, live music and more. The biggest technology companies like Facebook, Google and Microsoft are heavily investing in bots. Despite the hysteria, bots are already viewed as a disappointment.
The Weather Company, acquired by IBM in January, will begin rolling out digital ads that people can communicate with this fall. Powered by IBM Watson's artificial intelligence, consumers will be able to ask questions via voice or text and receive relevant information about the product or offering. The first companies to tap Watson ads will be Campbell Soup Company, GSK Consumer Healthcare and Unilever. Unlike ads tied to keyword searches, Watson Ads are able to pick up the nuances of natural language. For example, a consumer seeing a Campbell's digital ad may ask by voice interaction, "What can I make for dinner tonight?"