How Much Intelligence AI is adding to ordinary automation of consumer interfaces?

Bento Alves Costa Filho

Understood as the capacity a machine might have to imitate human behavior, Artificial Intelligence is entering everyone’s life through the way paved by previous automated consumer interfaces. Actually, the automation faced by consumers has come a long way since the first vending machines were launched at the end of the 19th Century, dispensing postcards, chewing gum, chocolate, and cigarettes. From that time on, in the 1920s, the first automatic system started permitting phone calls without the aid of operators; in the 1940s, automatic transmission in cars made driving much easier; in the 1960’s the first automated teller machines, vulgarly known by the acronym ATM allowed bank clients to make cash withdrawal without any help from bank clerks; in the 1980s interactive voice response started to “talk” with consumers in phone calls; and in the 1990s, the advent of the internet has brought to scene e-commerce, e-banking, e-service, e-anything exchangeable through a website. Coming to the 21st Century, the upsurge of the first smartphone in 2007 (iPhone) augmented by the app store phenomena, unlocked zillions of possibilities between the consumers and their objects of desire.

Therefore, establishing interfaces not mediated by human beings with brands and companies is not absolutely new for consumers. A great portion of them is used to screens and touchscreens of mobiles, tablets, notebooks, and gadgets in general when riding through their customer journeys to accomplish their interests. In this sense, artificial intelligence was introduced into consumer’s life backed up by the familiarity acquired with previous technologies.

Anyway, one could say that all the contributions AI is generating to consumers are worth despite all the hype around the issue. Some uses are easily perceived like humanoid “bots” (an acronym for “robot”) talking to people in website chats (chatbots), mobile phones, and other interfaces, activated by text or voice, supported by machine learning technology. Some cyber assistants are even becoming famous worldwide like Amazon’s Alexa, Apple’s Siri, and so on, answering questions, making shopping lists, turning on and off music devices, controlling home appliances, providing weather and traffic information, telling jokes, making people laugh. Also, AI is doing translations through natural language processing, playing games – and defeating world champions like Se-Dol Lee (Go, an ancient Asian board game), providing intelligence to cars, homes, appliances through the internet of things (IoT), helping people with safer interfaces through computer vision, just to mention a few examples.

It seems that consumers are enjoying the knowledge added to machines and automation AI is providing. However, there are situations in which AI might bring confusion and misunderstanding rather than catalyzing more intelligence to the interfaces. It might happen when someone is not familiar with nor prepared to or is unwilling to deal with AI interfaces or even perceive them useless. In those cases, special attention should be paid, because the adoption of an innovation might fail if that specific profile of person is not predisposed to the novelty considered (see Diffusion of Innovation by Everett Rogers), or the handling of the “gadget” is too complex or it is perceived as having no utility by potential adopters (see Technology Acceptance Model by Fred D.Davis Jr.). In short, who is adopting and what is being adopted should be the main concern when novelty is added to people’s life. AI should be aware of this or might run the risk of adding dumbness instead.