Podcast: What are Bots and what Impact could they have on the Events Industry?

Here’s the full Podcast Transcription:

James Dixon: Hello everybody and welcome along to the Event industry News Podcast. My name is James Dixon and today’s subject: bots. Once upon a time a messenger app did just that, it messaged. But with the rise of artificial intelligence, tech companies are very much, falling over themselves in some respects, to prove how much more useful and interactive their apps can be, which is why we are seeing an explosion of bots and more and more people are talking about it. But is a bot and what benefits could they have to the event industry. I’m delighted to say that joining the podcast today, live from New York, where he’s got up very early to join us, is CEO of event2mobile, Siddharth Jhujhunwala. Siddharth, thank you very much for joining us today.

Siddharth Jhunjhunwala: Thanks, thanks a lot James, thanks.

James Dixon: Fantastic to have you along and as I have said, there’s been awful lot talk about bots, chatbots recently. I know that the event TED Talks done in London recently, covered this as a subject. I think it’s fair to say that the tech companies and people who work in the tech side of the event industry are very up to speed with the technology and what it can do. Before we look at it in perhaps a more simplistic way, let’s just find out a bit more about yourself, the companies that you work for and how that ties in with today’s subject of the podcast.

Siddharth Jhunjhunwala: Sure, thanks. Thanks for that. Yeah, so goodmorning guys. It’s really early here in New York. So apologies if I sound groggy. I am CEO of event2mobile. We are an enterprise event app platform. When I say enterprise, it essentially means, it is used by companies rather than commercial event organisers. Event2mobile is owned by Web Spiders, which is the parent company and that has a bot platform called ZOE. So essentially, we license the bot platform to companies to help them implement bots in their companies. Even large Fortune 500 companies are doing that. And ZOE also powers event2mobile. So that’s how sort of this relates, James, in terms of you know, adding bot capability to events. I’ll give you a perspective on that later on, as we discuss that.

James Dixon: Super, super thanks for that. Now, I should point out at this early part of today’s podcast that I am one of those people who is yet to really, fully understand what bots are, what chatbots are. I have looked into it, I think I’ve got a basic understanding. So, you’ll forgive me today if some of the questions might seem a little basic but I am sure that I am probably speaking on behalf of a lot of people out there who are also in a similar position. They have a vague understanding and perhaps would like to find out more about this. I am gonna give you a scenario of how I understand it and let you take it from there if along the right line.

Siddharth Jhunjhunwala: Sure.

James Dixon: So people will be familiar with messaging platforms, so that’s the Facebook Messenger app, or iMessage or even the old Blackberry Messenger where you can have instant conversations with people that appear as text messages on your device, that could be a laptop, a tablet or a phone.

Siddharth Jhunjhunwala: Right.

James Dixon: So you have these messages. And I understand, the chatbot, for example, to be something where you’d be messaging but instead of a person responding to your message, it’s an automated response being generated by an artificial intelligence system.

Siddharth Jhunjhunwala: Right.

James Dixon: so you could be asking this bot a question or seeking information. Are we on the right lines there?

Siddharth Jhunjhunwala: Yeah, I mean this is the popular perception about bots; you know in terms of what bot does. And it’s probably thanks to Facebook. Last year around April, when they launched in F8, which is a Facebook Conference, when they launched … sort of, bot capability to Messenger. That’s when the larger community interest exploded in bots. But, you know … just to take a step back in terms of AI, because at the end of the day, bots are just a part of the umbrella of AI. It’s been around for decades. You know, it’s not something that was last year and you know, what is artificial intelligence, the parameters are constantly expanding. So, 30 years ago, a Word processor was really AI, when it could correct your spellings, it could format what you did. You know, it was pretty much AI for most people. And so that the boundaries of AI keeps expanding and today nobody considers Excel or Word or email, AI. But you know, to just give you a sort of a general definition, is when the system can take over the task that a human does. You know, when the machines can stimulate of think like humans do and do it in a better fashion. That’s really the larger definition of bots and AI, whether that’s messaging or whether that’s voice – that’s just a channel.

James Dixon: You mentioned they are doing it in a better fashion. How clos up are we to the technology realistically doing it in a better fashion than a human could actually do it. So if we are talking about somebody seeking some information, let’s say somebody goes for … to seek some information about the event, why not just pick up the phone and speak to somebody. Surely, a bot can’t quite do that as well as a human …

Siddharth Jhunjhunwala: So, as you probably James, the event .. the enterprise event globally, the spend is nearly half a trillion dollars, right? And that’s as large as the entire advertising spend, both digital and non-digital, globally. So, what really happening is with the spend as large as that, we are leaving lot of things to chance. We are leaving to chance whether somebody meets the right person, whether I get the right opportunity to speak to the exhibitor. You know, it’s your courage on the coffee table to say, ‘hello’ to the next person to have a meaningful conversation. So, I guess the word is serendipity and half a trillion dollars of serendipity – big bill, right? So what we are really trying to do, you know, at the end of the road, whether it’s a bot, a voice bot or a chatbot, I am trying to remove the specifics of the technology to the side for a moment, I think the end use case sort of reducing serendipity for events. Because there is too much of many surrounded by chance. And that chance is for discovering knowledge or people or simply opportunities and I think that’s the larger use case of using technology to help us reduce the elements of serendipity in an event.

James Dixon: Is that potentially taking some of the fun out of an event that people actually enjoy. People enjoy serendipity sort of things. They enjoy setting up some meetings in advance but they also enjoy bumping into people by accident or meeting a guy at the coffee station, who you end up doing, you know, $250, 000 worth of business with, just by sheer co-incidence. You know, is that fun element going to be removed out of our events?

Siddharth Jhunjhunwala: I think we are talking about assisted serendipity here, you know, augmented serendipity. So as an example, a typical conference, say around 200 people, which is a small event by any standards. If you see an average conversation that happens; you’ll be surprised if you take a survey, we’ve seen that a person meets, on an average, not more than 3 to 4 new people in a 200-person conference. And that’s an average; so somebody would meet 10 people, somebody would meet 1. But on an average, 3 or4 people. Now that’s leaving a lot to chance. What we are looking at is, for example, the bot to be able to do the matchmaking instead of you because the classic way of matchmaking in an event is you say I’m interested in that and somebody says I’m interested in this and it sort of matches. Now that’s not working, right? Nobody updates the tags, nobody has the time to say I’m really looking for this. What happens in a commercial event, when I say commercial event means somebody who is selling tickets to an event, it’s one way engagement. You know, you’re constantly bombarded with vendors coming in or if you are a big employer, then you are constantly getting people who need jobs, so it’s not a biased engagement. Now, we want meaningful engagement to happen. So while prospective job seekers or prospective vendors might keep messaging other people, for the other side it’s just annoying because they’ve spent money and time to be at the event and all they are getting is unsolicited messages. But at the same time, they are looking for people to join them. As an employer, they are looking for vendors to partner and if technology can sort of limit that ‘cold calls’ if you like, it’s more meaningful for both parties, you know.

James Dixon: Is it a case whereby a technology can be integrated with existing platforms or registration systems, event apps, etc. etc. because I think with so much technology coming into the marketplace in such a short space of time over the last few years, there are a lot of organisers and people who work in the industry out there who are worried that this is something else they have got to integrate? They are constantly having to relearn how to do things. Is it something that can be integrated and people won’t even realise it’s there or work with the existing systems?

Siddharth Jhunjhunwala: You know the beauty of technology is when it’s not there. That’s really the key metric of any technology when it doesn’t feel like it’s there, but it’s there. And what we are seeing is as an example, cognitives, which means image recognition and voice assistance being a big part of the image experience. So you and me are wearing a headset at the moment, and one of the behaviour changes that we see is that nearly 40 to 50% carry a headset in their pockets along with their phones these days. Partly perhaps due to Spotify or other reason but the fact is most people have started to carry a headset these days. So imagine, the typical attraction or two-way experience where you put on your headset and you let the app talk what’s around you. So the app tells you. So instead of if there is a busy booth, you know if you put your camera and it tells you, “Okay this is the booth, this is the Web Spiders booth, this is what they do. You can download the brochure, you can see the video”. You can do all of that without even going and speaking to somebody and then you would speak if that engages you. One of the voice bots that we are talking about is where you just switch on the app and you put on your headset and you are not dealing with technology. You are just walking, and as you are walking it’s telling you, it’s almost like the museum or the attraction tours that you have. It’s telling you, this is what’s on your left, this is on your right, this is what you are seeing. I am not even talking about those VR glasses where you have to wear them and you’re suddenly in another world. This is totally no-technology technology.  You are just wearing headset, you’re walking across the floor, you’re sitting in the conference and it leads you in that process. So that’s the kind of technology we are seeing that is succeeding. You see, as a company we are not working a lot with commercial vendors, we are working with enterprises. So for them, an event is a means to an end. They are spending hundreds of thousands of dollars or pounds, simply to have a better engagemnt with their shareholders, their customers or their employees. So, we are seeing these work where we are removing the technology and yet having a tech enabled.

James Dixon: There is and I hope I don’t sound like as if it’s about this but I suppose what I am doing is putting forward the views that people who will be watching this podcast will be thinking or having as they are watching it is when you talk about wearing the headsets, I’m sure many people will be familiar with the concept of a museum or even, I could think of the best example of 10 years ago when you go around … if anybody’s been to San Francisco and been to Alcatraz Island; 10 years ago, you were given a portable device , some headphones and you could push Play when you were ready and it would guide you on the tour without the need for a tour guide. And, obviously things have moved on apace and we now have this available to us.  But, what I am gearing towards is this idea of perhaps isolation. You know, events are supposed to be interactive. If the whole point of event is that you are getting people into a room, face to face to talk to each other, is the concept of putting your headset on and using your mobile device to guide you around, isn’t it isolating them and getting them away from the very reason they are there in the first place?

Siddharth Jhunjhunwala: You have a very valid point, you know. That’s the default meaning of getting out of your couch at home or at work and going for  a live meeting, It’s probably the sign of time, you know. I will give you an example as a speaker not a vendor. So I was up at NY for the Pizza hut conference, they had invited me to talk about bots. And it was a sort of an internal conference. It had about 13 countries coming in. They invited SoftBank Robotics to how how a robot could do a better job with the pizza delivery. They invited me to talk about the role of bots in the F&B industry. They were using our app again and they had only half an hour for each session and about 10 mins for Q&A. Now I was speaking as a speaker waiting for my turn and I was seeing other speakers. By the time they finished their session of 30 minutes, there were about 10 to 12 questions already up on the board and the person could answer those questions in the next 10 minutes. Essentially, a session that could have been 1 hour long, traditionally, was optimized to 40 minutes and I could see that being used. And in Asia, for example, wi9th the multilingual situation, where somebody is from Thailand, somebody is from Korea, they were able to post their questions, the system was able to translate those questions in English which the speaker could take in and they could optimize a 1-hour thing into 40 minutes. So I could see that that actually helped out because the serendipity of having a microphone being passed around the floor and getting a chance to ask is leaving a lot to chance. And of course with innovations like that, our platform, some of the other platforms, where you can upvote on a question, you can translate the question, it really added value to that engagement. And I could see that, once you get off the stage, you could see that people were coming back for an offline discussion and that was because I was able to address their questions. So I would say, in this specific case, it was augmenting the experience for me, which would have not have been otherwise.

James Dixon: And like you said that you removed that element of chance where instead of having a microphone being passed around by a facilitator who ultimately is their choice, it’s human decision ( ) who am I going to choose to pass the microphone to and then you don’t know if it’s a good question or a bad question or a relevant question whereas if you have the questions in hand, you can choose which ones you gonna answer, well now suppose that ties back into is what you were saying earlier on in the podcast about Microsoft Word and the spell-checker, the word processing when it came about was artificial intelligence, we don’t consider that to be artificial intelligence now. To people, perhaps have this misconception that bots and artificial intelligence is actually a lot more sophisticated than it actually is, we need to re-inforce how simple it can be.

Siddharth Jhunjhunwala: See, you know it has to be simple for the end customer because if it’s not then they are just not going to use it and that is pretty straightforward because you don’t want technology to be the focus when you are at an event and as you rightly said, you want the connections and the learning to be the key part, so the one difference between bots today and say bots 30 years ago when we had web processors as the AI is the concept of machine learning and that sort of you can say revolutionary aspect because in the quest to mimic human behavior you know let’s make no mistake the biggest computer on the planet, the most intelligent computer on the planet is the human right? The human body is the absolute marvel of nature and there is no replacement of that and the quest has been to create something similar to that and in that journey the aspect of machine learning because like you and me right, everyday we see things and we learn. Now the problem with an SAP system or an oracle system is that they don’t learn you know they still operate as they were coded so if they had rules they might have 10,000 rules. They would behave just the way they have been structured, now if you see driverless cars today for example, you know they are not just about sensors and cognitive, they are also about learning, so the car learns when an automatic brake was applied you know that was the right thing to do. So machine learning is one part that’s new and that’s sort of adding the thing and the second part is you know the predictive modules. Now traditionally we’ve always done a database query and we’ve got specific results. Now in the new AI sort of paradigm when you can predict a model, you know there is a popular phrase I use, ‘kicks vs kisses’ so if an AI machine had to predict the genre of a movie, for example, how would it do that? Now you could have perhaps number of times somebody kicked someone, number of times somebody kiss someone and have a plot right? Like a linear agression plot and make an assessment, now the AI would have a hundred variables, not just those two, whether the movie is a drama or a romantic movie or an action movie for example. So, these two things for a CEO of a company which is trying to understand ok what does AI mean for me, what does bot mean for me, is essentially adding the aspect of machine learning. So, in the context of an event, at the moment the events are very in a silo, so the event app is in a silo, you go to an event and the next event is absolutely new. There is hardly any carry forward of that information. The only thing we have is some analytics for the organizer but then that’s exclusive to the organizer, nothing towards the customer. If I had come to your event again this fall, is it knowing what I did last year and changing things for me?

James Dixon: True, yeah.

Siddharth Jhunjhunwala: and that’s the element we’re able to address in the enterprise because the enterprise for example some of our customers are using like for up to 200 events a year, so the same person based on his behavior and his choices, the system learns and gives him the appropriate behavior, appropriate choices and options in the second event and of course during the time difference between those two events as well in terms of relevant information and alerts so that’s really the key difference between AI today and AI yesterday.

James Dixon: And the more I speak to you, the more I’m hopefully, building my own understanding of how the concept works and then what I’m trying to do is reference it back to things that people maybe aware of in their day to day activities already to paint a picture for them what this concept means and what is coming to my mind when you are speaking there is this art of cookies on websites, people will be very familiar with the fact that they maybe searching on a holiday website for a holiday and they’ll be searching a particular destination and then they go onto Facebook and what’s there on their Facebook?  On the right hand side of their screen, pops up an advert for a holiday destination they’re looking at and should think that that’s a coincidence. I mean no-no that’s not coincidence because by allowing cookies, that’s essentially the internet being clever, learning what your likes and dislikes are and what you’re browsing and then bringing  forward advertising based on that and that’s essentially very similar to what we’re talking about already, isn’t it?

Siddharth Jhunjhunwala: Yeah, yeah exactly and I’ll give you a very practical example of what we’re doing with enterprise and the reason I’m saying enterprise all the time is because they’re focused on the engagement part, you know, they are motivated to make the engagement a priority rather than a margin. Because they have a budget and they have to spend that budget for the event. So as an example of cognitive you know one thing that you’ve probably seen in every event today whether it’s a wedding event, whether it’s a company Christmas event, whether it’s a you know, commercial event – is everybody is taking photos right? That’s I think you go to any event, even if it’s a powerpoint going on, they’ll be taking photos right? Now, with cognitive, at the moment you know like our systems and other systems they also give you a concept like a wall or a social wall so it’s like a Facebook experience within your app, within your event app but when you add machine learning on top of that, what the bot does is that the photographs that you are taking, it’s automatically tagging that, it’s automatically discovering what you are taking and that is adding to your profile and your interest to serve you personalized content. So, you don’t have to do anything, you take a picture, you upload it, it recognizes that this is the powerpoint you are taking, these are the things that you are capturing…

James Dixon: True, yeah yeah.

Siddharth Jhunjhunwala: …and it recognizes that and tags you with those tags automatically, so, it seems sort of surreal and sort of sometimes creepy perhaps that ‘oh how does it know that I was interested in this speaker? I didn’t even say that I like that speaker.’ At the moment the app wants you to like a speaker or like a session to be able to know that you are engaging with that speaker, you like that speaker but nobody does that, you don’t go to an event and bookmark and like and you know, you’re focussed on the session, so with cognitive you could do that. We’re seeing results already in terms of what is the intent of the people, what is the real intent of people when they are at the event and making it far more engaging for them.

James Dixon: And a of course a lot of us go hand in hand with people and their own learning and their own understanding in the subjects and how well they become used to it and reference it back to what I was just saying about cookies and things like that. When there are big issues of cookies and websites having to make sure that they were legally posting announcements and information that they use, that particular element on their website and people have to allow them and acknowledge…I remember a lot of people saying, ‘oh I’m not so sure about this, it’s going to be accessing my information…and my personal security and of course you fast forward a several years and nobody is bothered about it anymore, people just accept it, that’s the way it works, nobody really has any issue with it and I sense that there is a similarity again here as the technology becomes more advanced, people…in the first instance they take a photo of a presenter, upload it to their profile via an event app and then suddenly get sensitive information about them – the first idea as I said can be evry freaky.

Siddharth Jhunjhunwala: Yes, absolutely

James Dixon: But, as I said in a few year’s time this is kind of become normal and people will be used to getting the information through to them because of intelligence.

Siddharth Jhunjhunwala: Absolutely, absolutely. It’s a behavior change you see, all major revolutions have had behavior changes as a paradigm. Having a phone in your pocket was a behaviour change, internet was a behavior change, driverless cars would be a change in behavior. So, whenever there is a change in behavior, there is an opportunity for growth as well. That’s what we are definitely seeing in the events industry. The time and investment is massive and you know much more about it than I do. Half a trillion dollars, globally spent on events and this is not even including social events, these are including the corporate events, this is as big as the advertising industry globally. There’s a lot of money that goes on and often some of it is in the dark. Traditionally the event apps give you some statistics but they are not complete because people are not tapping on every speaker that they are listening to, they are not tapping on every exhibitor that they are interested in and having this intent and having it seamless and the use of sensors and you probably heard, no music festival these days for example goes without a smart badge, without a sort of a wristband for example.

James Dixon: Yes, they are the FID wristband, has a chip in it.

Siddharth Jhunjhunwala: And they are the only ways you go around. You go to Coachella, you go to Burning Man, you go to some of these big ones and even if you go down to some of the small ones. Some of these festivals, you are not even wearing a lot of clothes, you can’t put your phone in the pocket.

(Both laughs)

Siddharth Jhunjhunwala: You know, probably you don’t have a pocket at that moment and that badge is everything, from getting your food, to networking, to doing everything. You can’t even imagine a festival…

James Dixon: And on that particular reference point, we should break out of the conferences and the meetings for a second and when we talk about artificial intelligence and bots…stepping into the festivals industry which is still a huge part of the events industry – when you tie artificial intelligence to something like the RFID wristbands, they’re more prevalent in the industry now, suddenly there are a lot more opportunities, somebody taps their wristband, in certain area of the festival and that could look at their social media profiles and match them to some bands, to certain artists, certain other aspect of the event that could be of interest to them, it’s not just the meetings industry, isn’t it?

Siddharth Jhunjhunwala: Yeah, absolutely. I mean as a parallel, you know the radio function in Spotify, it makes you discover new music based on your preferences and the same thing applies…essentially the focus of the band is to recognize you and be able to transmit that data to a digital system and the moment you do that, right from your food preferences, right from health, you know… in these large conferences sometimes first-aid and health is a big part. Some people get sick, some people need medical attention, what kind of food they need, that’s a big part…you know…people come with different food allergies, food preferences, what kind of bands they want to listen to, what kind of bands they want to meet and you know we’re talking about corporate conferences, can’t even match the level of these events. I mean you’re talking about 10,000 people, 20,000 people and beyond so absolutely need this back-end engine to be able to match and the best part about machine learning is it needs to keep learning as an automated being in terms of what I mean to say is when that person does any further action, it keeps updating that and mapping to that and you then need the technology providers to provide it as a seamless service to these event organizers because they don’t have the time, they don’t have the energy and most likely they don’t have the competence to do it themselves. What they need is something out of the box, you don’t have to think about it, all you have to do is just subscribe to that service and they get all of that baked in right off the box.

James Dixon: I’m interested as we run through the time of today’s episode. One thing I do want to ask is in reference to behavior changes which we mentioned a few minutes ago, I’m sure over time and that could be in the next few months or it could be in the next couple of years, organizers and people working to deliver in the events industry will understand what this technology is capable of and how they can integrate it. What the biggest trouble maybe is to getting their audience to buy into it, whether they are delegates of the conference or people walking through the gates of a festival or an exhibition in a big…getting the audience members to buy into this and to actually get them to interact with it, is potentially going to be the bigger hassle. How are you working and how are companies like you working with the organizers to develop ways so they can actually transmit and translate the information to their audiences to make sure they understand what benefits this will bring to them.

Siddharth Jhunjhunwala: Well, that’s a good question. In terms of usage adoption, what we are seeing is that, it’s so much part of the experience, they get stuck when they see other person doing something and they cannot so as an example in that Q&A example, they’re seeing – ‘Oh, everyone else is posting a question and it gets answered, how do I do that? There are no mics being passed around’ – as an example, this guy got his food ahead of line, he got his drinks ahead of the line, why am I not getting that? Or I could get his business card, he is getting all his information right away, why can’t I get that? That sort of is the starting point. One thing you’re actually right is that delegates don’t want technology but they want to achieve more.

James Dixon: Yeah.

Siddharth Jhunjhunwala: Most delegates don’t want technology, they want to achieve more. They hate downloading another app, they hate signing up again somewhere else, they hate doing all of that and to some degree, chatbots which is just another channel for AI is helping for example with questions like, who is speaking next, when is…what’s happening now. These are the typical phrases that get covered right now. When they see it happening for others and it’s not happening for them, I think that’s when they invest in opting that. That’s the practical way that we’re seeing in adoption.

James Dixon:
It’s a continually growing area and a subject particularly I feel, arousing more interest in the industry. No doubt that event industry news will continue to cover this and before we wrap today, I should also point out that it’s worth having a little check back on the Event Tech Live website and probably available via events industry news as well that there was recent event tech talks in London on this particular subject…with a four person panel that was shared by Event Tech Live, Adam Harry. We should point out that people should go and have a look at that. A lot of stuff has been discussed on today’s podcast and I’m certain that we will speak again on this subject. For now we’re going to wrap up today’s episode and say thanks to the CEO of event2mobile, Siddharth Jhunjhunwala. He joined us from New York today. Thank you so much for joining us

Siddharth Jhunjhunwala: Thanks, thanks a lot. Thanks for your time.

James Dixon: We appreciate you getting up early and talking to us about it and now I’m sure you’re invigorated already for the day’s business ahead of you.

Siddharth Jhunjhunwala:  Absolutely, thanks. Thanks for having me. Cheers.

James Dixon: Fantastic! and once again people watching this on eventindustrynews.co.uk, you can also head over to iTunes and subscribe to the audio versions of the podcast or you can listen to it on your commute to and from work, if you’ve not got a chance to look at the video. For now, we’re going to wrap up today’s episode. My name is James Dixon. Thank you so much for tuning in and we’ll see you again next time. Buh bye.

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