Andrew Ng, Chief Scientist of Baidu says that Artificial Intelligence will be as transformative for us as electricity was for our ancestors. From the likes of Dubai airport about to pilot facial recognition, self-driving cars, through to Machine Learning systems able to predict heart attacks better than doctors, we’re seeing continual advancements in AI technology across a variety of industries with an almost limitless potential.
AI is a platform or a solution that appears to be intelligent and can often exceed the performance of humans. It is a broad description of any device that mimics human or intellectual functions such as mechanical movement, reasoning or problem-solving; an example being Google Deepmind’s AlphGo division over-throwing the world champion of the Chinese board game, Go. Machine Learning instead is a component of AI where a computer programme learns from historical data to provide a foundation for a decision both for a machine and a human. Machine Learning is commonly used to predict, for example, where a customer will accept an offer, whether a credit card is being used fraudulently or what the energy use of a building will be. There are a variety of Machine Learning algorithms that are used to classify and recommend. Airbnb, Netflix and Amazon all use Machine Learning to deliver us a greater experience with curated recommendations. It is hugely dependent though on good quality data for the outputs to be of use.
Through AI, event professionals now have the ability to enhance the experience of their attendees, deliver more meaningful interactions and gain invaluable insights on their behaviour and expectations, leading them to deliver a far better event experience and more importantly a possible further revenue channel. Whilst the progressions in the events industry are non-comparable with the rapid advancements taking place in the likes of the retail and healthcare sectors, we are already seeing a slow and steady investment in AI.
But what does the future of AI technology hold within the events industry?
Delivering a more personalised experience
We are now living in a world where delegates have increased expectations due to the advancements in technology. Every attendee has different personal and emotional requirements and we’re seeing a greater need to offer a more individual and personalised experience at our events. Content and experiences have gone through various iterations, from simple online websites and portals to content driven mobile apps, to AR and VR experiences, and we’re now seeing AI mechanisms next on the agenda to delight our event goers.
The simplest and most primitive form of AI is that of the chatbot. Pioneered by chat applications such as Facebook, Slack and WeChat, the chatbot can provide a conversational interface for users to access information and complete basic tasks. It is a computer programme that is designed to interact with the user so realistically, that they feel like they are directly conversing with another human. Today, chatbots are opening doors to the way we search for, and acquire information, and one of the main areas they’re being used is for customer service. For large scale events they are able to answer the more mundane questions and perform simple logical tasks, pre, during and post event. Here chatbots can be used as a cost saving approach and instant access whilst not overshadowing the delegate experience. Their interaction method can involve ‘texting’ but also where more sophisticated implementations are employed, natural language i.e. voice can also be leveraged as demonstrated by Amazon’s Alexa and Google Home.
Major hotel chains such as Marriott, Hilton and Starwood have been employing chatbots for some time now. Edwardian hotels have a virtual host, named Edward who is directly integrated with their Property Management System. Edward is tasked to deal with common guest requests such as ‘what time is breakfast?’ or where the hotel is located; requests that don’t really warrant a human interaction. As each request is logged, it usefully gives the hotel data on commonality within guest requests and any trends, therefore allowing the hotel to make regular tweaks to their guest experience.
Dazzle, the winner of Marriott’s accelerator programme looks to go beyond the confines of a hotel’s walls and offer a hybrid of Artificial Intelligence and the human brain to deliver “seemingly impossible levels of guest service”. Dazzle will answer guest’s questions through AI such as ‘what is the weather today’, whilst also being able to implement more complex requests such as ‘please organise a one to one yoga session’ by messaging guest services who will then complete the more complicated element of the request.
These concierge style services aren’t just limited to hotels, as we see a rise of personalised assistants now accompanying delegates at conferences to maximise their experience. From telling you where to park, or where to get your lunch through to your event scheduling, the app will anticipate your needs and use data gathered from you to power highly relevant suggestions and services.
So what is the ‘bot’ potential within our industry?
With these concierge style services currently acting with hardcoded responses, what if the data was richer? What if it knew your event schedule, would therefore wake you up at an appropriate time, work with the hotel guest services to have your breakfast ready, book a taxi and then have coffee ready for you at the venue. The possibilities are endless. If we analyse all the touchpoints along the delegate journey, AI technology could be an integral part in helping to drive a more personalised and curated experience.
But the use of chatbots doesn’t always go smoothly, take Microsoft’s chatbot Tay for instance, which when let loose on Twitter quickly deteriorated into a feminist hating, chauvinist loving persona causing one of the company’s largest PR disasters of 2016. This highlighted a major problem faced by the AI industry: if robots are learning from humans, there’s always the risk they will adopt the prejudices that exist in society.
Delivering informed decision making
Whilst the likes of YouTube and Amazon have been delivering us curated content through Machine Learning for years now, there is still a slow adoption in the events world. With most events sites requiring the user to trawl through sessions to create their own agenda, Machine Learning could easily be used to provide you the most relevant recommendations of sessions or workshops to attend to help you plan a more personalised and effective agenda.
The app Grip, is an AI matchmaking machine that interprets data from elements such as your social media profile and recommends conference sessions to attend, people to meet or products that might be of interest to them. The app learns from who attendees have indicated they’re not interested in, and with their advanced algorithm it continually improves their next set of recommendations. All designed to maximise the time the attendee has at the event and who’re they’re networking with.
Analysing sentiment to drive a better events experience
Sentiment analysis, another popular application of Machine Learning has been around for many years, particularly within the retail sector, but we are seeing a far slower adoption in the events industry. Sentiment analysis tells you how your audience feels through the analysis of social media posts and online conversations. A very effective way of finding out prior to an event the sort of content that will resonate with your audience and for those events over a longer time period to see how the audience are responding and where tweaks can be made in real time to provide a better delegate experience.
So what are the limitations we’re seeing in this technology? It’s only as good as the data. We all know how difficult it is to obtain and harness the correct data, and current AI solutions seem to be only as good as the data backing it. Even Amazon, Netflix and Facebook get it wrong. We will also see the issue of data privacy become more and more prevalent. With AI requiring such a huge amount of data the privacy implications increase and with the General Data Protection Regulation due out in May 2018 we will see organisations needing to be more accountable for how they use this data.
As we start to fully leverage AI within the events industry, we are able to see the beginnings of a truly transformed events world. Experiences will be hyper-personalised for every individual, anticipating their needs and adapting in real time to help maximise the value attendees gain from being at an event. Whether it is customer service, tailored travel itineraries, networking technology or personalised assistants, the industry is slowly and surely beginning to tap into AI technology. If the industry can start to invest and innovate in this area as rapidly as other sectors are, then we are sure to see an incredibly exciting future for the events industry and the delegate experience.