Chatbots Mobile Zeitgeist Heike Scholz

Chatbots – my expectations were too high

„My expectations on chatbots were too high”, Heike Scholz admits. In this interview the founder of  mobile zeitgeist furthermore predicts: the smartphone will be dead sooner than we think.

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Heike, I just talked to your Mobile Zeitgeist chatbot via Facebook Messenger and it guided me around your website. We got stuck whenever I asked a not preformulated question. When was the last time you had a chatbot conversation that led to your goal?

I never had such an experience with a chatbot. Probably because my expectations towards chatbots were too high. The representation of a possible future in which we communicate with machines that anticipate our every wish misguides us to overestimate chatbots. Most of today’s chatbots have nothing to do with Artificial Intelligence.  They are rule-based, i.e. they “react” to certain keywords and then execute a predefined action.  This of course means that their range of actions and communication is very limited and they basically run through a process of questions and answers which requires us to use the “right” keywords. It’s still a long way to go until this changes because of data-based chatbots with AI.

In my opinion there is still some scepticism towards chatbots (in Germany). Do you agree? Why do you think this is?

Yes, I agree. And I think this scepticism is understandable and human. Because for us it’s the first time as well that we try to communicate with machines in the same fashion as with other humas. I can understand a little wariness.  For many it’s disconcerting  that in the future we might not be able to recognize if we talk to a human or a machine. They feel “cheated” when it turns out they were talking to a machine instead of a human. But we will learn and get used to this.

One of your latest articles is titled “The smartphone is dead…soon”. Can you give us a sum up of your thesis? And how soon is soon?

This statement might be a little provoking, but I am convinced, that in the foreseeable future we will not be dependent on this type of interface. Intelligent assistants, chatbots, smart glasses, smart watches and a growing number of different approaches into the digital world show that the atomization of interfaces is full underway.  Furthermore, medicine is making significant progress with implants and is able to support, add to or completely replace functions of our body. When you take these developments and think them a further it becomes obvious that human-machine-interaction will change drastically. The smartphone in its current form will be obsolete in ten years time.

Mobile Advertising is a big topic at Mobile Zeitgeist. What are the major mistakes that are still being made in 2017? And what are advertising tools/concepts/mediums of our digital future?

The biggest mistake that was and still is made is to think that something that works on a desktop computer will in a smaller version also be successful on mobile devices. In desktop times already one could have foreseen that interrupting ads are not a good idea. But people didn’t want to admit this. Now we have to deal with heaps of ad blockers on desktop and mobile devices. WeChat for example has been showing for a long time how to do it better. WeChat is not a messenger like WhatsApp anymore. WeChat has become an immersive platform that embraces your whole life: I can book doctor’s appointments, go shopping, meet my friends online and can pay everywhere.  Users are spending tremendous amounts of their “real” life on WeChat. Accordingly, the companies are on WeChat and offer a personal point of contact and context-oriented services.

Whether it’s newspapers, your magazine or our website: Content for mobile readers is usually produced at a desktop/laptop. Aren’t we too far by design from our target audience? Do we have to learn from Snapchatters and rethink?

Of course it’s difficult for producers of content who work on desktop computers to always  think about the mobile user. And I would not go as far as to say that all publishers have to edit all of their content for mobile usage. You should adjust to your users. My magazine for example is still predominantly read via desktop. I always have an eye on this issue and as soon as the majority of my users would be reading on mobile devices I would optimize for that and let the desktop slide simply because I don’t have the ressources for both. Sticking to the traditional desktop content must not mean that we don’t learn from new platforms e.g. Snapchat. The way we consume media and create content is constantly changing and publishers have to keep that in mind and incorporate these learnings in their projects. And if nothing else: new, mobile platforms will let you learn for your desktop world as well.

Since Pokemon Go at the latest nobody can ignore the power of Augmented Reality anymore. Even if the hype has worn off a little: What could be the next “big thing” in mobile AR?

Pokémon Go showed in an impressive matter how Augmented Reality can nevertheless be mainstream. Even if the big players experimented with it AR was until then mostly waived off as a nerdy technology. But Pokemon Go showed that with a clever user experience AR deserves a place on smartphones as well.  But I see use cases for AR on smartphones only to a limited extent like for furniture stores, tourism, museums or games. In most cases the user will not want to constantly hold his smartphones in front of his nose and use AR apps. However, smart glasses and smart contact lenses could change this as additional information could directly show up in your field of vision. But time will tell if the benefit of constantly wearing these devices. It’s definitely an exciting topic that is worth keeping an eye on.

About Heike Scholz

In 2006 Heike, graduate in business management (Diplom-Kauffrau), founded mobile zeitgeist and made it the leading online magazine for mobile business in German-speaking countries. Today she is a well-known note speaker and digital influencer and passes on her knowledge to managers and companies.
Heike is member of the advisory board of Hochschule Worms, University of Applied Siences for the degree courses applied computer sience and mobile computing and co-founder of ZUKUNFT DES EINKAUFENS (Future of Shopping), a platform that accompanies the disruptive digital changes the stationary retail is facing.