While most of us are carrying an intelligent assistant in our pockets or have them sitting on our kitchen table, few of us are using them to their fullest potential. In this issue we look at how the barriers to making these assistants our go-to problem-solver are being broken down.

But AI has not only given our phone a voice — we also look at a controversial application: robots therapists that are being used to treat children with autism.

Finally we investigate the steps Citymapper and Uber are taking to remain people’s first port of call when it comes to transportation in cities.


Image: drwindows

Removing the barriers in the way of Intelligent Assistants

With smartphone penetration in the US and UK surpassing 70%, most of us carry around an incredibly powerful personal assistant in our pocket. But surprisingly few of us decide to take full advantage of them — we’re still mostly instructing our intelligent assistants (IAs) to do fairly simply and mundane tasks. Case and point: a recent ComScore study found that “Checking the weather” was the 2nd most popular use case of Smart Speakers in US households. Why is this?

A recent piece by Harvard Business Review explains that there are two barriers to why IAs are not being used to their full potential:

i) Humans need to learn to be less self-conscious when talking to non-human agents. Talking to Siri in the office or in the middle of a crowded train still feels strange to many. Just like we need time getting used to talking to a stranger, we also need time adapting to talking to machines.

ii) For some, privacy and data security can be off-putting when it comes to IAs. If asked to confess our deepest emotional troubles to a “Daily Therapist Skill” on the Amazon Alexa, many of us would hesitate — especially after the recent Cambridge Analytica scandal. However, as IAs become more advanced, many are likely to forgo traditional methods (booking an expensive therapy session with a human) for the much more convenient methods that IAs offer (talking to Alexa from the comfort of your bed). Research has shown that if the offer is compelling enough, users will happily share their personal data for increased convenience.

It is clear that as we get more aware of, and accustomed to, the incredible functionality that IAs offer, we will overcome the aforementioned barriers and make IAs a round the clock presence in our lives.

By Jeevan Jayaprakash, Strategy

Image: Wired

Robot Therapists and the Ethics Behind It

Today, millions of dollars are being invested into the study and development of robotics for military purposes as well as practical ones to make our daily lives easier. A recent 2017 study brings to life a new use for robots in therapy for children with autism.

Using a half-meter humanoid robot, the clinical psychology department at Babes-Bolyai University tested an autistic child’s ability to follow a gaze. When the child followed the toy-like robot’s gaze, the robot would respond with, ‘Very Good’. The experiment’s success brought to light a theory that robots could replace humans as therapists for autistic children. This idea has great potential, as many live too far away from clinics to have access to constant therapeutic support.

In the UK, the University of Hertfordshire has been using child-like robot Kaspar to teach autistic children social skills. Another ‘huggable’ robot named Probo teaches autistic children communication skills through the use of 20 motors in its head to show realistic facial expressions. Although some children are more afraid of these robots than others, the overall results are increasingly positive.

With heavily funded studies such as DREAM constantly advancing in their research, we can expect to see robots being used in a wider range of therapy options. Today, robots cannot yet replace all the benefits of human to human contact in therapy. Many individuals who themselves are on the autism spectrum believe more research should focus on teaching others what it’s like to be autistic instead. The debate surrounding the ethics of robots is only just beginning. But if robots really can help children with autism, the application of such technology in therapy and healthcare has a vast potential to do much good.

By Anastasia McLain, Strategist

These are the brands that Citymapper are integrating into their app. Image: Citymapper

Citymapper and Uber take steps to capture the customer relationship in the bike- and scooter-sharing economy

In issue 16, we spoke about how apps hosting short-distance transport options such as shared bikes or electric scooters are increasingly becoming users’ first port of call when it comes to travel and navigation.

This trend means that a customer relationship that was previously owned by the likes Google Maps and Citymapper is now moving over to bike- (or scooter-) sharing apps like Ofo and Mobike.

And it’s not surprising: According to the 2017 England National Travel Survey, the average trip distance for all transportation is down 10% from 2002, while the same number for cycling increased by 54%. Urban density means that people are taking shorter trips, while improvements to infrastructure and changes in public opinion has meant that people are not afraid to go longer distances on their bikes.

Citymapper have understood that their share of the transportation market is decreasing, and are following the old adage “if you can’t beat them, join them”: They recently announced that they will start integrating many of the biggest cycling, scooter and moped sharing brands from across the world into their app.

Earlier this year Uber made a similar move when they acquired bike-sharing startup JUMP, which they have gradually started introducing into their app. Uber recently released data showing the efficiency of having multimodal transport options in a single platform. Their studyon early adopters showed that by integrating JUMP into Uber, overall trip frequency went up by 15%. Users who traditionally would neglect ordering a car-ride during congested rush-hour periods started booking JUMP bikes instead.

It is clear that transportation in cities as we know it is undergoing a drastic evolution, and the business that is able to aggregate the right options onto its platform might come out as a big winner.

By Oliver Iyer, Strategy

Image: Carbyne

Cool thing of the week: Carbyne App

After experiencing first-hand the outdated 911 calling system, CEO and Founder Amir Elichai created Carbyne — a next generation call handling platform. Right now, the company’s objective is to minimize the length of “time to dispatch”. Combining device-based technology and live video streaming they have managed to cut this time by 60–65%, saving countless lives. The next phase of development will include the ability to deliver medical information to hospitals so the appropriate equipment can brought by responders to the scene.

It is clear that these features would bring incredible improvements to our current emergency calling systems. For example, Carbyne includes a live chat option, for both people that have a speaking impairment as well as the situations where an individual cannot talk on the phone. As Carbyne signs it’s first deal in the US, here’s to hoping it makes its way to the UK next!

By Anastasia McLain, Strategist

Originally written as part of Hi Mum! Said Dad’s weekly newsletter, H! Lites.

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