5 05 2014
Can Artificial Intelligence create a new non-technical job category?
As the Wall Street Journal put it in its May 3 headline, “Job Growth Gathers Strength,” but with the caution that there were “numerous worrisome signs, among them another exodus of workers from the labor force and persistently weak wages.” Technologies such as speech recognition and natural language processing can reduce the number of jobs that formerly required human skills (e.g., medical report transcription and call center agents). What new category of well-paying jobs might these language technologies create to compensate for those lost? There are, of course, highly technical jobs in language technology itself that require years of education or experience. But is there a new job category that doesn’t require years of training?
One potential such category will evolve as individuals get accustomed to natural-language personal assistant apps, such as those offered by Apple, Google, and Microsoft. The underlying technology can support specialized “conversational apps” that can be a new form of entertainment, marketing, and/or information delivery, but will involve intensive human involvement to create the original content and to support on a continuing basis. The key human skill required is creativity or knowledge about a specific content area, rather than computer skills.
Today, entertainment and information applications are largely at two extremes of user interaction: (1) intensively interactive (e.g., games); or minimally interactive (e.g., enter a search term to get an answer or watch a video or TV show). A conversational app is an intermediate option. Such an app would involve an intermediate level of interaction with the user, with all categories of response to the user an option (images, text, and/or audio). Categories of conversational apps include:
- Entertainment: A video or audio story/game that requires repeated interaction with the user to progress, with the story/game changing depending on what the user says. For example, one app might be a detective story where the user asks questions to get clues and solve a mystery. Another might be a children’s story where the story changes based on preferences stated by the child.
- Information and education: An interactive application where the user can inquire about a subject within the declared range of the application, e.g., investing for retirement accounts. To go beyond search, a true dialog to refine an inquiry should be possible, with retention of the context of previous dialog (allowing inquiries such as “How do I do that?”). Options can include guidance through a series of steps (e.g., executing a recipe), with the user indicating when the next step should be provided, and optionally asking for more detailed instructions.
- Marketing: Marketing apps can be a combination of entertainment and information. They will typically be branded and represent a particular firm or product. Options can include descriptions of products, frequently asked questions, options to buy, technical support, customer service, or all of these. The customer may be encouraged to use the app by an entertaining introduction, e.g., differing funny responses in reaction to a customer utterance within the context of the company product line (e.g., tasteful jokes about the competition).
A fundamental characteristic of conversational apps is that they branch, that is, they are not a linear, fixed experience such as a book or movie. And they don’t have the fixed rules that define a game. As such, they require much more content than more conventional media. Also, many of the genres listed admit of continual addition of content to add new material or to better respond to a user inquiry that only gets an evasive answer. A cooking assistant can evolve into an encyclopedia on cooking, for example.
By their nature, most conversational apps will require human creativity. Much human time will be required to create a conversational application and support it. Many conversational applications will require a team.
Many jobs and entrepreneurial opportunities will be created by conversational apps. An attraction of such jobs is that creativity or expertise in specific topics (e.g., hobbies) is all that is required. One doesn’t have to take a course in computer science to create such an app if the appropriate tools are available—content is king. Hopefully, tools and web sites will appear to support those who feel they can create conversational apps. It will only take a few successful conversational apps to start a deluge, as the rapid growth in conventional mobile apps has proven.