Technology isn’t silent anymore. It talks, and its voice shapes the way we live — working and virtual learning, shopping for cleaning supplies, playing daily music mixes, cooking new recipes, or exercising — all by just asking for it out loud. Since the pandemic hit, more and more brands realize the endless possibilities for interacting and engaging with users in a natural, contactless way.
Whether for working, learning, or playing, here’s why voice is the “natural,” touchless solution for next-level brand engagement.
Some of the world’s leading companies like American Express, Estée Lauder, Nike, Headspace, Campbells, Dunkin’, Snapchat, Tide, and Bank of America have started rethinking customer experience and brand strategy from the voice tech perspective and the opportunities it presents. Brands like these are finding that voice brings their relationships with customers to a new level. A touchless interface is a straightforward reason to adopt voice in the current pandemic. Still, another is how voice technology offers greater accessibility and inclusiveness to customers regardless of ability, race, age, gender, or geographic location.
The voice space has become a topic of heightened interest for thought leaders across industries, including Sofia Altuna, who heads Global Product Partnerships for Google Assistant and hosts VOICE Talks, a monthly live-stream series focused on the voice sector and the experts, technologists and innovations impacting voice technology. The coronavirus, she says, “has provided a new perspective of the importance of this technology.”
Additionally, in a recent VOICE Talks episode, she emphasized how inclusion and accessibility are being prioritized for ambient computing and noted that disabled rights and social justice are equally essential.
To learn more about the innovations in voice, the brand partnerships working to solve users’ needs, and the growing voice community (VOICE Talks has grown to nearly 50,000 users in four months), we recently had a conversation with Altuna, who is working (and exercising, cooking, learning and playing) and now filming VOICE Talks live from her apartment in New York. The interview is slightly edited for length and clarity.
What is so intriguing about voice technology for you?
I’ve always been very passionate about empowering people through technology, so one of the most intriguing things to me about this space is that voice is universal and easy for anyone to adopt. Voice is the most “natural” way to engage with technology and requires no user manual. All types of people of all ages are using Voice Assistant, defying the early adopter stereotype.
As host of VOICE Talks, what do you strive to bring to the monthly live streams?
Every month, we try to bring viewers insider content from the world’s leaders in voice technology. From industry trends to case studies to business tips to product demos and announcements — there is a lot we want to cover. We want the content to resonate with the viewers, so each episode also focuses on what questions or themes the viewers have submitted at #AskSofia. This is about reaching the community in a way that is meaningful and relevant to what they want to see, learn, and share with each other.
Tell us on a professional level why you are at the right place, at the right time, as host of Voice Talks and your work on the Global Product Partnerships?
Previous to working on the Google Assistant, I was already interested in the space and was involved with other projects at Google around Conversational AI. Since I joined the Assistant team three years ago, I’ve worked across multiple different product features globally and with many partners.
This has given me a broad understanding of the voice tech ecosystem, the possibilities and challenges across the platforms, and the opportunities for brands and users. Being at the intersection of product engineers and partners also provides a unique perspective to understand both the technical complexities and our partner brands’ vision, goals, and requirements. We work with partners to allow for powerful user experiences that help solve users’ needs.
How has your background prepared you for this role?
Having led the go-to-market strategy and execution for multiple Google Assistant initiatives globally with many different brands across multiple industries has provided me a broad view of the voice tech ecosystem and a good perspective. I’ve also participated in many conferences, client summits, and as a guest speaker at MBA classes. I’ve been passionate about raising my voice and sharing my perspective on this technology.
Typically events are always a great opportunity to learn about the ecosystem, exchange ideas, and listen to partner feedback. However, without these this year, VOICE Talks is a great platform to bring the voice community together and share learnings that can propel this technology into the future.
Fun fact: when I was 15, I also did a pilot for a Spanish TV show as a host. Maybe it was all practice to lead to this moment ????
Has the pandemic heightened your awareness of the importance of voice technology?
Definitely. Although we began our journey towards voice technology long before this current crisis, COVID-19 has provided a new perspective of the importance of this technology. First, as more people are at home, voice assistants can play a bigger role in work productivity, education, and family activities.
Secondly, people want to avoid touching shared devices (or any device), so I think Voice is poised to be part of the solution that helps shape our new normal and make our lives easier and safer. This is something that makes me excited about this space, of all the opportunity there is and the impact that we can have.
Why do brands want to include Voice in their strategy?
Today, brands are particularly excited to join the Voice ecosystem at the ground floor with the vision that it can grow into a large surface for their business.
There’s a clear new medium with Voice that users are getting more and more comfortable within their homes and on-the-go. As brands look to innovate and adapt to cutting edge technology, they partner with voice tech companies, like Google Assistant or Amazon, to learn what works for this new medium (hand in hand with us). The conversational design also seems deceptively simple, so brands incorporate voice technologies to create more seamless conversations with their customers and learn how these users engage with their brand via voice.
Google Assistant’s large footprint across devices (1B devices) also excites brands that are interested in making their content available across new surfaces.
Why should more consumer brands utilize voice technology?
Voice has taken a major leap forward, and it has emerged over the last couple of years as a new foundational interaction model in computing. As users start to have access to this technology everywhere, and this behavior becomes more normalized, if brands want to meet the users wherever they are, they’ll have to start incorporating voice technology into their strategy.
Voice technology also allows brands to engage key audience segments in personalized conversations through more natural and seamless interactions, which can ultimately drive retention and business growth.
Brands that are using voice technology as part of their strategy today are not just creating new experiences for their users but are beginning to learn and invest in the future of customer interactions (i.e., they are developing the technical know-how to navigate the new computing era — the first-mover advantage).
What are the one or two things that brands always ask you about building for a voice assistant?
The first question brands normally ask is: how should we think about what experience to build? Users are not just looking to access a brand’s website in audio form (at least not now). Voice is a much more “intent” base (i.e., use case base). Brands should spend time thinking about those moments where they can be truly assistive with voice and create re-engagement.
At first, it’s important to think about how to help users in sustained, often daily/weekly/monthly repeatable interactions. For example, it’s become common for food ordering apps to start their voice journey around use cases like “reordering,” as well as for banks to build an experience to quickly check your account balance or bills vs. purchasing a new credit card or opening an account.
Secondly, brands also ask questions about their personas. Voice can be the most natural and personal way to engage with brands – it has more to offer than a website or a device, so for the first time, brands really need to think about who they want to be and evolve their brand identity into a fully-developed personality. However, while this is important for a successful voice strategy, it can feel daunting and will likely require a lot of time since developing a voice that represents your brand is no small feat. For this reason, my advice for brands is to not let this deter them from starting to experiment now (without their own fully-developed personality), but rather to do both in parallel.
What do you want potential brand partners to understand by watching the next episode of VOICE Talks dedicated to predictions for voice technology that is coming on December 10?
Virtual assistants are increasingly becoming part of our daily life, but we are truly just at the beginning of this new era of voice and ambient computing.
This new era won’t just be something we launch, but something that we work towards — a new way of thinking about computing and about how we engage with technology. For this reason, VOICE Talks is not just about Google Assistant, it’s platform-independent, as it aims to teach viewers about the wider advances and opportunities in the space.
Given the novelty of this technology, when watching VOICE Talks, my hope is that brands can learn and be inspired by peers and users alike, from the top companies that are investing in this space and from the broader community.
The opportunity for Voice is huge. Through creating a platform that unites the community as VOICE Talks does, we can all learn from each other and propel this technology forward, creating extraordinary experiences that empower all users.
Fintech Kennek raises $12.5M seed round to digitize lending
London-based fintech startup Kennek has raised $12.5 million in seed funding to expand its lending operating system.
According to an Oct. 10 tech.eu report, the round was led by HV Capital and included participation from Dutch Founders Fund, AlbionVC, FFVC, Plug & Play Ventures, and Syndicate One. Kennek offers software-as-a-service tools to help non-bank lenders streamline their operations using open banking, open finance, and payments.
The platform aims to automate time-consuming manual tasks and consolidate fragmented data to simplify lending. Xavier De Pauw, founder of Kennek said:
“Until kennek, lenders had to devote countless hours to menial operational tasks and deal with jumbled and hard-coded data – which makes every other part of lending a headache. As former lenders ourselves, we lived and breathed these frustrations, and built kennek to make them a thing of the past.”
The company said the latest funding round was oversubscribed and closed quickly despite the challenging fundraising environment. The new capital will be used to expand Kennek’s engineering team and strengthen its market position in the UK while exploring expansion into other European markets. Barbod Namini, Partner at lead investor HV Capital, commented on the investment:
“Kennek has developed an ambitious and genuinely unique proposition which we think can be the foundation of the entire alternative lending space. […] It is a complicated market and a solution that brings together all information and stakeholders onto a single platform is highly compelling for both lenders & the ecosystem as a whole.”
The fintech lending space has grown rapidly in recent years, but many lenders still rely on legacy systems and manual processes that limit efficiency and scalability. Kennek aims to leverage open banking and data integration to provide lenders with a more streamlined, automated lending experience.
The seed funding will allow the London-based startup to continue developing its platform and expanding its team to meet demand from non-bank lenders looking to digitize operations. Kennek’s focus on the UK and Europe also comes amid rising adoption of open banking and open finance in the regions.
Featured Image Credit: Photo from Kennek.io; Thank you!
Fortune 500’s race for generative AI breakthroughs
As excitement around generative AI grows, Fortune 500 companies, including Goldman Sachs, are carefully examining the possible applications of this technology. A recent survey of U.S. executives indicated that 60% believe generative AI will substantially impact their businesses in the long term. However, they anticipate a one to two-year timeframe before implementing their initial solutions. This optimism stems from the potential of generative AI to revolutionize various aspects of businesses, from enhancing customer experiences to optimizing internal processes. In the short term, companies will likely focus on pilot projects and experimentation, gradually integrating generative AI into their operations as they witness its positive influence on efficiency and profitability.
Goldman Sachs’ Cautious Approach to Implementing Generative AI
In a recent interview, Goldman Sachs CIO Marco Argenti revealed that the firm has not yet implemented any generative AI use cases. Instead, the company focuses on experimentation and setting high standards before adopting the technology. Argenti recognized the desire for outcomes in areas like developer and operational efficiency but emphasized ensuring precision before putting experimental AI use cases into production.
According to Argenti, striking the right balance between driving innovation and maintaining accuracy is crucial for successfully integrating generative AI within the firm. Goldman Sachs intends to continue exploring this emerging technology’s potential benefits and applications while diligently assessing risks to ensure it meets the company’s stringent quality standards.
One possible application for Goldman Sachs is in software development, where the company has observed a 20-40% productivity increase during its trials. The goal is for 1,000 developers to utilize generative AI tools by year’s end. However, Argenti emphasized that a well-defined expectation of return on investment is necessary before fully integrating generative AI into production.
To achieve this, the company plans to implement a systematic and strategic approach to adopting generative AI, ensuring that it complements and enhances the skills of its developers. Additionally, Goldman Sachs intends to evaluate the long-term impact of generative AI on their software development processes and the overall quality of the applications being developed.
Goldman Sachs’ approach to AI implementation goes beyond merely executing models. The firm has created a platform encompassing technical, legal, and compliance assessments to filter out improper content and keep track of all interactions. This comprehensive system ensures seamless integration of artificial intelligence in operations while adhering to regulatory standards and maintaining client confidentiality. Moreover, the platform continuously improves and adapts its algorithms, allowing Goldman Sachs to stay at the forefront of technology and offer its clients the most efficient and secure services.
Featured Image Credit: Photo by Google DeepMind; Pexels; Thank you!
UK seizes web3 opportunity simplifying crypto regulations
As Web3 companies increasingly consider leaving the United States due to regulatory ambiguity, the United Kingdom must simplify its cryptocurrency regulations to attract these businesses. The conservative think tank Policy Exchange recently released a report detailing ten suggestions for improving Web3 regulation in the country. Among the recommendations are reducing liability for token holders in decentralized autonomous organizations (DAOs) and encouraging the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) to adopt alternative Know Your Customer (KYC) methodologies, such as digital identities and blockchain analytics tools. These suggestions aim to position the UK as a hub for Web3 innovation and attract blockchain-based businesses looking for a more conducive regulatory environment.
Streamlining Cryptocurrency Regulations for Innovation
To make it easier for emerging Web3 companies to navigate existing legal frameworks and contribute to the UK’s digital economy growth, the government must streamline cryptocurrency regulations and adopt forward-looking approaches. By making the regulatory landscape clear and straightforward, the UK can create an environment that fosters innovation, growth, and competitiveness in the global fintech industry.
The Policy Exchange report also recommends not weakening self-hosted wallets or treating proof-of-stake (PoS) services as financial services. This approach aims to protect the fundamental principles of decentralization and user autonomy while strongly emphasizing security and regulatory compliance. By doing so, the UK can nurture an environment that encourages innovation and the continued growth of blockchain technology.
Despite recent strict measures by UK authorities, such as His Majesty’s Treasury and the FCA, toward the digital assets sector, the proposed changes in the Policy Exchange report strive to make the UK a more attractive location for Web3 enterprises. By adopting these suggestions, the UK can demonstrate its commitment to fostering innovation in the rapidly evolving blockchain and cryptocurrency industries while ensuring a robust and transparent regulatory environment.
The ongoing uncertainty surrounding cryptocurrency regulations in various countries has prompted Web3 companies to explore alternative jurisdictions with more precise legal frameworks. As the United States grapples with regulatory ambiguity, the United Kingdom can position itself as a hub for Web3 innovation by simplifying and streamlining its cryptocurrency regulations.
Featured Image Credit: Photo by Jonathan Borba; Pexels; Thank you!