The data theory of chatquake

Some silly things do happen in life. I was desperately looking for my marriage photographs to prepare a romantic album for my wife over last weekend considering my impending anniversary. I initially thought of digging out old photographs and making a collage and make a superb gift. Since I am decently unorganised, I had to hunt for the album over the night and I was dumbstruck to see that the thin films in the album had already made a natural collage of the photographs.

OMG, I had to find an alternate way to get something of sentimental value to her. I decided to hunt for my hard disk to get some pictures of our “good old days”. I was blessed with the soft copies that I found on the hard disk. The happiness didn’t last much. My daughter grabbed the disk from my hand to get hold of the “Tom and Jerry” collection and here it goes onto the ground…. I didn’t know what to say. There lies my whole collection of songs, photographs, videos, and movies I had collected over past few years. I had some hope to connect and check the data. I could just hear a ticking sound from the hard disk. It was all over.

I started to search for an online secondary data storage. I was amazed at the kind of progress that we had from our era of floppies to the latest DNA storages devices. I had to pinch myself when I came across the work in which DNA suspended in water is used for data storage. To give a perspective of DNA, around one tenth of million molecules of DNA can be fit into the width of a hair. Literally, the library of Congress can be fit into a few strands of hair. I remember around 4 years back I had read a news that scientists successfully stored 5.5 petabits of data in a gram of DNA, that’s equivalent to 700, 1TB hard disks. The research over the past few years must have taken this number that would need a few minutes to count the zeros at the end.

Moreover with such “simple mechanics”, there would be no fear of losing data. I am glad that my marriage photos can be stored for more than 1000 years. But can we transform the data storage to a service that can be seamlessly accessible? I think we can. Even if we do it, what would we do with such a large quantum of information? It would be a daunting question for a technology leader who is planning to use such data for enhanced “client experiences”.

Let’s see what is happening to our services industry. As we see it the industry is getting transformed or, rather I would put that the burgeoning clusters of startups are transforming such client experience. Let’s take a simple example of banking. Why are (or were, possibly it has come down drastically) we going to banks? Is it just the matter of money? I think people never banked with an institution just for money. They banked to have a trusted companion and a feeling of support (from the perspective of money). With the emergence of the modern technology, we lost a little bit of personal touch on such relationships. I don’t think you would have met your chic relationship manager at the bank personally (I haven’t). There are banks that charge if you try to do that. Anyway, how would we able to bring back that personal touch for the banking or for that matter, any other services with the new age technologies?

It is a question that would haunt any company that would aspire to design the consumer-centric front end. It would be wise for such companies to consider the new emerging bot platforms. In the supersaturated digital economy where the website and mobile app are taken for granted for any business, the emergence of the bot economy would be a silver line. Humans, being social and connected, have time to spend over a 300 minutes over a week in connecting and chatting with those connects through the popular chat applications such as facebook chat and WhatsApp. For the facebook, this opportunity will open up a new way of business to reach users – via a chat interface. But is this going to be scalable? Is it going to be the next big market or is it just hype?

So what is a bot and how we can use it? They are apps that would enable the users to interact through textual or conversational interfaces rather than the traditional click to action kind of interfaces. It would take us one step towards the machine intelligence that would understand what you would say and then respond(which has been the idea behind developing the computer program by Alan Turing). The bot may not be a completely new concept. It is the new age version of billboards or chat rooms from the times of ActiveBuddy’s Smarterchild (later taken over by AOL). The way Smarterchild developed intimate friendships with over 30 million Instant Messenger users and over a billion messages a day, these new age bots would change the way of human interaction with the computer. But what could change or has changed from now and then? Two factors as I see it would be the growth of measurable data and the growth of the internet and mobile technologies. According to IDC, in 2011, we created 1.8 zettabytes (or 1.8 trillion GBs) of information, which is enough data to fill 30 billion 64GB Apple iPads. That’s enough iPads to build a Great iPad Wall of China. In 2012, it reached 2.8 zettabytes and IDC now forecasts that we will generate 40 zettabytes (ZB) by 2020.

To put the data explosion/generation in context, every minute of every day we create, more than 204 million email messages, over 2 million Google search queries, 48 hours of new YouTube videos, 684,000 bits of content shared on Facebook, 100,000 tweets. It is pretty much huge measurable information.

When we know the user muscle of these messaging apps is headed to 2 Bn users globally which are around 30% of the global population in 2016, what would happen if we are able to chat to a bot without even knowing that the discussion is done with our machine counterpart? The beauty of the opportunity lies in refining the Natural Language Processing(NLP) capability and instead of a monotonous IVR we hear the pleasant voice of a Siri/Cortana and get into a discussion on a topic of our interest. Even though the research on NLP is focusing on English, it will soon expand to other languages too to address the local crowd. We are talking about a “chatquake” in countries such as India where already we have an average millennial (aged 16-30 years) spending about 2.2 hours a day (or about 34 days of a year) on their mobile devices. Once we have that expertise the “click market” would transform to a “chat market”. You could be conversing with an app rather than swiping over the phone. This would increase the local marketing engagement and reduce customer support costs.  The companies planning to enter this market would need support from platforms such as Facebook and Google that would charge for the privilege of talking to their customers. This will open up a bot economy parallel to the app economy and in turn, open up another channel for client services.

This space has been revolutionised day before yesterday by the launch of a bot platform by facebook. With the “big data analytics”- the quantum of data that’s being generated exponentially as we saw earlier, and with the intelligence that we would be able to imbibe into the bots through analytics on human thoughts, the bots will be as much part of the conversation as real people are.

Who knows for my next anniversary, a bot would recommend me another bot that I could gift to my wife on my behalf. Need to wait and see.