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IBM delivers Watson-powered voice assistant for consumer brands

Alexa and Google Assistant have taken residence in people's homes. IBM aims to give companies a way to deliver their own branded AI voice assistants

IBM has launched Watson Assistant, an artificial intelligence (AI) powered voice assistant for businesses.

Organisations showcasing the Watson Assistant include speaker maker Harman, retail bank Royal Bank of Scotland, Autodesk, Munich Airport and Motel One.

IBM has ambitions to position its smart assistant technology as an alternative to the likes of Amazon Alexa and Google Home.

But rather than focus on the consumer, the company said the technology has been designed to deliver an enterprise AI voice assistant that securely brings together data on all of the places and “things” consumers visit and interact with daily.

This is different to Google and Amazon’s approach, where the web giants log the consumer’s interactions, building vast pools of behavioural insight.

Instead, IBM said: “Data ownership, a critical factor in the future of AI, and with Watson Assistant, IBM does not and will not own the consumer data via Watson Assistant. Any data captured through conversations, texts and videos is contained within the brand to better serve its customers.”

Rather than a user invoking Alexa or Google, IBM said the companies that use Watson Assistant can have their brand front and centre. “Businesses can now create personalised and engaging experiences for consumers to make natural conversations that pick up where the chat left off – no matter where the consumer is,” the company stated.

IBM said data on the customer’s specific daily preferences can be securely shared between their vehicle, favourite hotel or local coffee shop. It claimed consumers also have more control of their data, and how and where it is shared.

Read more about smart speakers in business

  • Voice recognition has become a new frontier for customer relationship management. What does the new voice channel mean for understanding consumers and how will voice data integrate with existing customer intelligence?
  • Experts discuss how to go about creating compelling voice-enabled user interfaces for smart speakers.

In a recent interview with Computer Weekly, Emma Kendrew, artificial intelligence (AI) lead for Accenture Technology, said voice assistants provide a more natural experience for the user. Accenture found the use of voice interaction for talking to a machine is more natural among digital natives, and it is they who tend to be driving demand for new apps and smart speaker devices.

Forrester analyst Kjell Carlsson, noted in a recent blog about the importance of voice as a new touchpoint for customer experience: “Our customers are very literally telling you what they want, what they think about your products and services, and what they think about their experiences with your company.

They are doing this, often unwittingly, through conversations with your salespeople, your customer service reps, with each other online and increasingly with virtual agents. AI cuts through the complexity of speech and can bring all relevant, available information to bear.”

With Google Assistant and Alexa smart speakers, these insights are lost to the companies that provide the speakers. IBM hopes Watson Assistant will enable consumer-facing companies to retake control of their customers’ voice queries, which could enable them to build better customer experiences.

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