Argodesign’s Rolston on AI, Chatbots, and Meta Me

Argodesign helps customers including startups and household name tech companies such as AT&T, Disney, Intel, and Microsoft imagine, develop, and design products and services. The company takes equity in early and late-stage startups in exchange for its expertise and services.

Ahead of his keynote at the upcoming Open Mobile Summit in San Francisco on November 29-30, Argodesign Co-founder/Chief of Creative Mark Rolston had a wide-ranging conversation with Open Mobile Media’s Robert Gray. The discussion included the move away from apps as well as the rise of chatbots and voice-controlled services.
 
OMM: At the Open Mobile Summit you’re speaking on the era of quantification, digitization and automation—that’s a mouthful, but how are these things affecting the world of product and experience design?
Rolston: The 20th Century school of design grew up around making things--immutable objects we worked with: a toaster, a bicycle, those things were designed; design was about making things.
Today in a lot of ways design is about creating experiences that are more or less, essentially part of us; for example: Facebook. It’s not another thing, in a lot of ways it is me. The part of Facebook I care about is me, or my wife, my friends; they’re not only on Facebook, I know them through their expression on Facebook.
In a sense the design of that is much more about the data and the flow of info, how that affects my experience with and about that person.
Design has shifted from making immutable objects to dynamic experiences that are driven by the measurement of people, places and things in the digital space.
It’s a heady change, but it’s an important change. It’s like we’re designing each other.
It’s very quiet but groundbreaking, LinkedIn suggests you send someone a Happy Birthday or Allo, the chat tool from Google, it recommends what you say back to them.
We can quantify how someone sounds and suggest what they say.
We expect Allo to get a lot smarter, imagine in five years it knows me so well it can speak for me in some cases. My wife SMS’s and asks, “What do you want for dinner?” I might answer but it’s not me, it’s a meta me, a highly reflective version of me. It’s not the me we used to know, it’s still me but in a new way of looking at me.
 
OMM: Where and when will we allow AI to take control and where will this new UX archetype lead in the near future?
Rolston: In the next year you’ll see smarter trivial experiences, recommending where to eat or how to get somewhere. Those things are getting better at phenomenal velocity because the risk of being wrong is low or being wrong is okay.
On the other hand there are expert systems not moving as fast, but I expect 2017 to be proof in the pudding year for a lot of expert systems. If you stay at a Marriott, it has a concierge system, it’s pretty robust, it’s getting hammered everyday by guests—being used rapidly. There are some medical systems that are getting a lot of robust vetting.
I don’t expect any generalized system to surface that fast, self-driving has been incremental and will stay incremental, no breakthrough moment (in the next year); maybe more negative there because we’ll have many more instances of it in the market. It’s probably the year we come to terms with the imperfections of it. The fact that, like humans, crashes can occur (in self driving cars) and we need to figure out how to fix that and contextualize it to the rest of our lives.
 
OMM: As a designer, what tech is most exciting to you at this time?
Rolston: Chatbots are super exciting right now. They’re immediately applicable and useful forms of AI. Applications, apps, that’s been a business and the propeller of design activity for the last 10 years--the app biz is sort of played out. It’s getting harder to create an app that introduces new value. It’s not impossible but it’s harder.
A lot of those apps don’t deserve to exist as an entire app. The value proposition is too small for me to find it in my library of apps and launch it.
But the chatbot is a lighter-weight engagement so I can aggregate a whole lot of value with a chatbot. If you pair that with cards, and the new methodology around cards, you can see an infrastructure emerging that will give us an alternative to functional value to just launching an app.
 
OMM: Who stands to gain in the process?
Rolston: The clear winners will be the operating system folks, which are now more conglomerate software companies. Apple is a conglomerate of interests, Google will be at the center of that as an operating system and that gives them leverage to introduce a common service like a chatbot. It’s going to be those companies: Amazon, Google (Alphabet), Apple, and Microsoft.
 
OMM: How will voice controlled systems fit into the overall tech eco-system?
Rolston: At the core, voice tech allows us to interact with a computer in more natural manner when our hands are occupied.
The other factor today is the question of brands—today’s there’s a series of operating systems that are leading the way and they expect us to invoke them to talk to any brand. Today I have to ask Alexa for an Uber, that’s a technical problem. They need a very narrow phonetic phrase to invoke the computer’s attention today.
It can’t be listening to every word today. Eventually we’ll overcome that and partly because brands will insist and you’ll invoke the brand that’s interesting to you. You’ll say “Uber” I need a car, and maybe for some aggregate services like a chatbot you’ll invoke the aggregate service name, but ultimately you want to talk directly to the things that bring you value. In short term, we’ll be talking to Siri, Alexa, Google, Bing whoever else has a product.
 
OMM: What’s the biggest change in smart tech design and functionality you expect to see on the streets in the next 6 months?
Rolston: Competing voice devices, conversational computer solutions. They are trying to aggregate as many services as they can.
It’s like the app race, the early platform wars.
We’re going to get another war with service platforms that are primarily driven by voice and chat capabilities. They need to get critical mass to stay alive, it’s very much like the app wars, there’s a teetering force to it, a winner take all nature.