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Cars of Tomorrow: The Future of Automobiles – ReadWrite

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Steve Hoffman


Everyone knows self-driving cars are coming and will upend the automotive experience, but what other jaw-dropping inventions are headed our way? Here I’m talking about the cars of tomorrow and the future of automobiles.

Let’s start with electric vehicles (EVs). Elon Musk, the visionary CEO of Tesla, and when he announced that the company is working on a million-mile battery.

Well, the battery won’t allow you to drive for a million miles without recharging, but it will last for a million miles before it must be replaced.

This is a big step forward considering EV batteries typically last 200,000 miles. With a million-mile battery, the car would fall apart long before the battery goes dead. This also means the owner can sell it or transfer it to a new car, resulting in less pollution and waste.

It’s nice to have a battery that can outlast the car, but what about the headache of charging an EV?

The brains at Huawei are working on a solution. They want to make charging your car effortless and are developing a system for wirelessly charging vehicles.

These charging pads could be placed anywhere, from parking garages to carports—and maybe even on city streets. At some point, we may no longer have to worry about charging our cars. It will just happen.

If we look further out into the future, Daimler and Toyota are developing fuel-cell vehicles, which will convert hydrogen into electricity.

A hydrogen-powered car would emit only water vapor, saving both money and cutting down on greenhouse gas emissions. Hydrogen can also be produced on site. Already, in the UK, they have refueling stations that produce their own hydrogen on a commercial scale using solar power.

Hydrogen cars typically have longer ranges than EVs, and they only take five minutes to refuel. These are tangible benefits, but hydrogen still has a long way to go. Unlike EVs, which consumers can recharge in their garages by simply plugging them in, hydrogen vehicles lack this infrastructure. Refueling stations are few and far between.

Thirteen companies, including Toyota, BMW, and Daimler, have committed to invest $10 billion to develop hydrogen technology and infrastructure over the next ten years. By 2023, Germany should have 400 hydrogen fuel stations. And California is expected to have 200 hydrogen stations by 2025.

Hydrogen isn’t the only alternative fuel.

In the United States, there are already 175,000 natural-gas-powered vehicles on the road, along with 1,600 refilling stations. Despite being available for some time, however, natural gas-powered vehicles haven’t taken off for several reasons.

They don’t get nearly the mileage that gasoline vehicles do. They are considerably more expensive to buy — and the models available are limited and uninspired.

Methane is another possibility.

In the United States, the oil industry spews 13 million metric tons of methane into the atmosphere every year. If we harvested this potent greenhouse gas, it would be enough to power millions of vehicles and homes. And it’s not just the oil industry.

Cow-Powered Car? Okay by me!

Cattle contribute 37 percent of all industrial methane emissions. A single cow produces between 70 and 120 kg of methane per year. With 1.5 billion cattle spread across the globe, this adds up. T

his is why Toyota is even considering harvesting methane from cows. Scientists are working to capture this gas whenever cows burp it up. So, don’t be surprised if cow-powered cars appear on the road one day.

Parking

On a more practical level, have you ever forgotten where you parked your car in a crowded parking garage? If you have, you’ll know how infuriating that can be. The good news is that Huawei might have a solution in the works.

The company told me how it’s developing AI that will guide the owner to the correct parking spot using their smartphone. This means no more blindly wandering around the garage searching for your car.

If misplacing your car isn’t bad enough, falling asleep at the wheel is. In the United States, there are roughly 90,000 crashes involving drowsy drivers every year, leading to an average of 50,000 injuries and 800 deaths.

Huawei is working on solving this problem too. Using neural networks, the car analyzes the driver’s facial expressions and sends out an alert when the risk of nodding off is high. This same technology can potentially be used to detect drunk drivers.

Every year in the United States, approximately 10,000 people die because of alcohol-impaired driving, accounting for roughly 30 percent of all traffic-related fatalities. If the AI solution determines that the driver is intoxicated, it could send out an alert or even disable the ignition.

With the rapid developments in autonomous driving technology, we can see cars transforming into entertainment and productivity platforms.

Once cars start driving on their own, the drivers will be free to do whatever they want. This means they can kick back, watch movies, play games, get work done, and even enter virtual experiences. It may become commonplace to virtually appear in one meeting as you’re driving to another.

The interiors of cars will change. People may sit at a table facing one another, like in railway cars. Cars may also become a second bedroom. When people have a long drive, they may choose to travel overnight, saving the hassle of flying.

Speaking of flying, will cars soon be taking to the air?

Sky Drive, a Toyota-backed startup, has already tested its flying car and expects to launch a manned flight within two years. Not to be outdone, the Alibaba-backed startup, Xpeng, just revealed its flying vehicle. This one looks less like a car and more like a giant drone with seating for one passenger.

Hyundai is thinking bigger. It has plans for models that will carry up to six passengers within metropolitan areas. They anticipate entering the market by 2028. Many experts I’ve spoken with believe that the first generation of flying cars will be used mostly for flights ranging from 50 to 800 miles.

If you want to travel between cities, taking a flying car may become a viable option. Flying within cities is a bigger challenge because of concerns around privacy, noise pollution, and safety. Imagine what could happen if a flying car slams into a home or skyscraper.

For these reasons, ground vehicles will remain the dominant form of transportation within most cities for the next decade or so.

A third option is a hybrid autonomous air-ground vehicle.

This would drive like a car, then sprout wings for longer-distance journeys. These James Bond-like vehicles would transform themselves, driving, flying and even floating, depending on the location, regulations, and weather conditions.

Some futurists even predict that vehicles will become modular. People may choose to zip about in a mini car for short commutes, but for longer trips they may add on a sleeper module or extra trunk. These modular cars may even connect together like pods. Want to take a trip with friends? Simply merge your vehicles into one supercar, where you can party all the way to the destination.

New lightweight materials, like carbon fiber, biomaterials, and graphene, may replace steel and plastic when constructing future vehicles.

AI and the future of cars.

As AI takes over and driving becomes safer, there will be less need for rigid frames. Cars may even be built from flexible, rubbery nanomaterials that don’t exist yet. Or cars may end up looking like inflatable bubbles or hovercraft. Nanotech could entirely alter how cars operate.

Someday in the far future, cars might be able to morph into almost any shape and configuration the driver desires. Want a pickup truck? No problem. Your car simply flattens out, creating a bed in the back for hauling stuff. Prefer to go faster, and the car reconfigures itself for speed.

What about cars, AI and cities?

It’s not only the function of cars that will change but their impact on how we live. Today’s metropolitan areas are designed around cars.

Streets are paved and lined with parking spots, which tend to be eyesores. What if we could replace all this ugly asphalt with greenery, making our streets appear more like parks. With the advent of hovercars that float ten or more feet above street level and flying cars that zip from rooftop to rooftop without ever touching the ground, this could be possible.

Our cities might be transformed into Gardens of Eden, with lush thoroughfares, where pedestrians and cyclists could move without having to constantly be on the lookout for motor vehicles. Considering the fact that cars in the United States kill, on average, one pedestrian every 88 minutes, this would save a lot of lives.

Removing cars from our streets would also make cities more livable, but is that the future of cars?

Most people don’t think about noise pollution, but it has an impact on our psychology and physical wellbeing. Electric cars are already much quieter than gasoline-powered vehicles. In the future, we may have cars floating overhead that are not only silent but invisible.

At the University of Rochester, scientists have developed technology that bends light so as to make an object invisible. If we apply this technology to cars, we may not even know they are there. We could be in the midst of a bustling city, but it might appear as peaceful as a country meadow.

Not only could cars disappear from sight, but they may travel at speeds that make a Lamborghini look like a horse-drawn carriage.

People may drive into a Hyperloop-like transportation tube that accelerates their vehicles to 500 mph or more, while on our freeways, cars may be permitted to drive at 150+ mph, as long as humans aren’t behind the wheels.

Once fully autonomous driving systems become widely deployed, governments may be able to increase speed limits without substantially increasing the risk of accidents.

It’s even conceivable that governments will require all vehicles to be self-driving, and people who wish to drive a car may be required to go to special designated areas.

In other words, a human-driven car may become as obsolete as taking a horse and buggy onto the highway.

This is just a slice of what’s around the corner as cars evolve into flexible, intelligent platforms that not only get you to more places faster but reimagine the experience of driving.

Image Credit: ryutarro tsukata; pexels

Steve Hoffman

Captain & CEO

Steven Hoffman, or Captain Hoff as he’s called in Silicon Valley, is the chairman & CEO of Founders Space (FoundersSpace.com), one of the world’s leading incubators and accelerators. He’s also an angel investor, limited partner at August Capital, serial entrepreneur, and author of several award-winning books. These include Make Elephants Fly (MakeElephantsFly.com), Surviving a Startup (SurvivingAStartup.com), and The Five Forces (FiveForcesBook.com).

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4 Ways Tech Can Bring a Federal Infrastructure Bill to Life – ReadWrite

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Deanna Ritchie


The stimulus bill approved by the House of Representatives in late February was the first of two major budget initiatives President Biden is seeking in the opening months of his administration. The second bill, expected soon, will address the president’s longer-range objective of creating jobs by, among other things, overhauling the nation’s infrastructure.

It’s a fact that people on both ends of the political spectrum can agree on: The nation’s infrastructure is in immediate need of an update. The most recent Infrastructure Report Card from the American Society of Civil Engineers gave U.S. infrastructure a D+ rating.

As the new administration and Congress begin the process of updating the country’s crumbling roads, dams, and electrical grids, one unsettling fact looms large: no one knows exactly how the federal government will be able to solve such a large problem. Improving the country’s infrastructure will require extraordinary levels of investment and public- and private-sector cooperation.

Bassem Hamdy, CEO ofBriq, the leading financial management platform for the construction industry, looks forward to this massive undertaking but warns of potential pitfalls. “The lack of infrastructure development in many areas may be attributed to the bottlenecks existing in construction,” he says. Easing these bottlenecks is going to require tech assistance. This article will discuss how technology can help overcome the industry’s challenges and bring a federal infrastructure bill to life.

1. Digitization

The construction industry has been notorious for relying on manual and paper-based workflows for decades. That paperwork can lead to scores of errors and delays that push projects further back from their intended completion. By digitizing all information, using paper as a backup only, information can be easily shared and accessed at all times.

Hamdy acknowledges the impact technology has already had on the construction industry, noting that “Over the last 10 years, a whole host of software providers emerged, turning paper-based workflows into digital workflows, and in the process, moved general contractors specifically to the cloud.” Moving documentation from paper to the cloud has greatly impacted project efficiency in just a few short years.

While cloud storage and instant messaging have become more widespread in the industry, other forms of technology are pushing the construction world even further into the future. One example is digital contract signing, which makes it possible for documents to be verified and signed digitally, eliminating or reducing the need for paper in most situations.

2. Automation

A federal infrastructure bill might not take into account the labor gap in the construction industry. “While the construction industry accounts for over 10 million jobs in the U.S., there is a significant labor shortage to execute the projects that currently exist,” says Hamdy. “Many of the subcontractors are typically responsible for providing labor but consistently struggle to meet labor requirements, which means that projects often fall into delay and cannot meet schedule requirements.”

Certainly, opening up new jobs is a good thing, but only if skilled applicants can fill them. One way to work around the construction industry’s labor problem is through automation. This could take the form of modular construction (think factory-produced or 3D-printed facades) or the digitization of planning, design, and management processes. Even bricklaying or road paving could be automated.

When automation lightens the workload, it frees up the construction industry’s scarce human workers to perform the tasks only they can do. One further upside: the savings that result from implementing automation could improve the industry’s often razor-thin profit margins.

3. Reduced Overhead and Improved Financial Planning

Even though the construction business is very profitable in certain areas, contractors inevitably face risks inherent to large-scale projects. Robust financial planning capabilities enable them to assume such risks and take the necessary precautions to ensure projects are successful.

Financial technology (fintech) allows contractors to more easily develop budgets and track expenses without an extensive finance background. Predictive modeling and analytics enable more accurate forecasting of cost to completion, while streamlined workflows reduce overhead costs. Both functions will help contractors keep projects within their designated budgets.

Some examples of fintech in action can be found at Harper Construction and Wescor, two companies that have seen massive savings by working with Briq. The technology has added the power of automation as well as additional tools necessary to improve financial analysis and workflows.

4. Data Analytics for Current Projects

Data provides insights for calculated decisions on how to proceed with discrete projects and the day-to-day running of their businesses. “The most important thing a contractor can use technology for is in the management of their cash flow,” observes Hamdy. Data can inform everything from the most cost-effective material choices to the most productive hours for employee scheduling.

Data analytics also helps contractors think bigger picture. “Contractors will embrace intelligent financial forecasting, data analytics, and predictive modeling to better anticipate risk,” Hamdy predicts. And as important as it is to anticipate and brace for potential risks, data analytics can also act like a compass pointing toward new opportunities. Pinpointing growth zones before they explode allows construction companies to tap infrastructural gold mines before the space gets too crowded.

The best of tech is yet to come, but what is available today in the construction sector can bring a federal infrastructure bill to life. In fact, it would likely be impossible to carry out such ambitious plans without leveraging technology in these four ways.

Deanna Ritchie

Managing Editor at ReadWrite

Deanna is the Managing Editor at ReadWrite. Previously she worked as the Editor in Chief for Startup Grind and has over 20+ years of experience in content development.

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Is 2021 the Year of Digital Transformation? – ReadWrite

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Frank Landman


While all large and successful organizations have already gone through significant digital transformation, 2021 may be the year that small and medium-sized businesses dive in headfirst. Are you ready to join the fold by embracing the next iteration of the business world?

What is Digital Transformation?

Digital transformation has been called a lot of things over the years. And while some would argue that it’s nothing more than a buzzword, those who are involved with it know that it’s more than conceptual. When executed with vision and precision, it can revolutionize a business from the inside out.

In the simplest form, digital transformation can be described as the process of leveraging the correct blend of digital technologies to modify existing business processes and/or create new ones. The objective of digital transformation is to enhance the customer experience and establish simpler, more cost-effective systems that streamline every aspect of value creation.

As industry thought leaders often say, digital transformation begins and ends with the customer. When businesses recognize and follow through on this idea, they can expect to yield an array of benefits, including:

  • Greater efficiency. Think about the bottlenecks in your business – the things that slow down processes, frustrate employees, and prevent you from reaching your full potential. In many cases, technology is involved. And if we dig a layer deeper, we’ll find that these technologies are outdated and/or being improperly leveraged. The beauty of digital transformation is that it allows you to fight through these bottlenecks and speed up your business through greater efficiency and output.
  • Better decision-making. It’s not enough to have data. You need to know what to do with that data. Digital transformation ensures you’re collecting and interpreting data correctly, which allows you to improve decision-making and guide your company in a better direction.
  • Enhanced customer satisfaction. Research from Gartner shows that more than 81 percent of companies are competing primarily on customer experience. And as we said on the front end of this piece, digital transformation is ultimately about the customer. By enhancing customer satisfaction, businesses can cultivate loyalty and squash the competition.
  • Increased profitability. An impressive 56 percent of CEOs say digital improvements have helped them increase revenue in the past. And as we move forward into a world where digital transformation becomes even more integral to the health and well-being of organizations, we’ll see this number grow even more.
  • Superior company culture. While customers may be the focal point, digital transformation has a positive impact on employees as well. Over time, this emphasis on digital transformation fosters a superior company culture that reduces turnover by elevating retention.

Identifying and understanding these benefits provides some context as to the value that digital transformation provides. The only question is, are you doing what it takes to yield these advantages?

6 Strategies for Seamless Digital Transformation

Digital transformation doesn’t happen overnight. It takes months and years of proper planning and careful execution. However, you can begin experiencing positive results almost immediately. Here are a few tips to help you do just that:

1. Gain Top-Down Buy-In

There is no digital transformation without comprehensive buy-in from all organizational stakeholders. And more specifically, you must begin the process with buy-in from the C-suite.

Research from McKinsey & Company finds that companies who engage the chief digital officer (CDO) at the beginning of the process are 1.6 times more likely to report successful digital transformation on the back end.

Achieving buy-in requires you to be knowledgeable and articulate in your messaging, but it shouldn’t be difficult. If you do a decent job explaining the benefits of digital transformation, the C-suite will have every reason to support the strategy.

The bigger challenge, per se, is that you’ll have to reaffirm the buy-in continually. In most C-suites, approval is not a one-and-done idea. You’ll need to show momentum and progress through objective data. Be prepared to document the results every step of the way.

2. Assign a Point Person

Don’t be fooled into thinking you can roll out an entire digital transformation strategy with a hodgepodge team of people who already have their hands in a dozen other duties and responsibilities. If you want to be successful with your approach, you should find someone who can lead the way. This may look like hiring a new person for the job or reassigning someone. Whatever the case, be sure to practice discernment.

There are a few key characteristics to look for, including a comprehensive understanding of the digital marketplace, as well as a personality that’s conducive to building rapport and moving others to action.

“For business leaders driving digital transformation, they must be able to lead change and communicate a vision to superiors, peers, direct reports, and users,” mentions Box, a leader in the digital transformation space. “They must understand the impact of a new business model. At the same time, They have to be adept at working with IT managers — explaining the big picture and negotiating specific requirements from IT.”

This person won’t be in charge of executing every element of the strategy, but they will be the ones championing the cause. Everything flows from this person, so get it right!

3. Establish Clear Vision

Your “point person” will be in charge of helping to clarify and communicate the vision for your digital transformation strategy. It’s more important that your vision is comprehensive than catchy. It should be a holistic yet specific idea that considers every aspect of the organization. This includes:

  • Branding
  • Marketing
  • Sales
  • Tech stack
  • Performance
  • HR
  • Budget and operational costs
  • Expected Outcomes
  • Stakeholder impact
  • Etc.

Your vision essentially amounts to a digital roadmap for the future. It explains where you’re going and which aspects of your organization the strategy will touch. (Which should end up being every department, element, and asset.)

4. Evaluate Current Gaps

Take a look at your current technology stack/processes and contrast this with where you want to be in six months, a year, or three years from now. Consider where there are opportunities to pivot and improve, as well as where you’re coming up short. These are your gaps.

Technological and process-based gaps are where the opportunities for significant digital transformation exist. It’s not just about replacing legacy systems and doing away with obsolete processes that no longer produce the results you need. You need to rethink your approach to certain areas of your strategy – like marketing and sales – and imagine what these areas could look like in a perfect world.

As always, think about these gaps through the eyes of the ideal customer. Every digital initiative should support the customer in specific ways. If an “improvement” happens at the customer’s expense, it’s not true digital transformation. It should start by enhancing the customer experience, then (and only then) should you consider the internal impact.

5. Set the Appropriate KPIs

Every organization goes into a digital transformation strategy with the hope that it’ll work out, but there’s a difference in hoping and knowing what’s actually happening. The best way to evaluate the success of your strategy is to set objective measurements ahead of time. Well-developed key performance indicators (KPIs) with pre-defined benchmarks give you something to measure against.

Setting KPIs begins with figuring out what you want to measure and then building from there. If, for example, you’re trying to measure the success of a new application that you’re introducing to your user base, good KPIs would include: daily active users, ratio of repeat to new users, conversion rates, abandon rates, and average time spent on the app.

Is the goal to evaluate customer experience based on a new onboarding process or customer loyalty program? Metrics like customer satisfaction (CSAT), customer effort score (CES), customer loyalty index (CLI), and sentiment analytics are insightful.

User engagement is a fun one to track. You have options such as net promoter score (NPS), traffic sources, customer satisfaction index, bounce rate, and exit rate.

If it’s the reliability of IT systems that you’re interested in measuring, you may keep an eye on specific metrics like uptime, mean time to failure (MTTF), mean time to resolve (MTTR), and mean time before failure (MTBF).

Other large-scale KPIs that touch various aspects include employee performance, innovation, operational performance, and financial performance.

6. Beware of the Shine

It’s tempting to become mesmerized by the shine of new tech and innovation. And with so many different tools and applications being released on a regular basis, it’s difficult to differentiate between the ones that have the potential to be useful and the ones that are a waste of your energy and resources. Be diplomatic in your decision-making!

Where is Your Focus?

Every digital transformation strategy will have a unique flavor. And while it’ll look a bit different in execution and application, many of the same underlying principles are present across the board. For best results, study what others are doing and view their approaches through the lens of your customer and your business. Your roadmap lies somewhere inside these lines.

Frank Landman

Frank is a freelance journalist who has worked in various editorial capacities for over 10 years. He covers trends in technology as they relate to business.

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When Will Chatbots Become Better Than Humans? – ReadWrite

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Nate Nead


How often do you have full conversations with chatbots? It might happen more than you think. 

These days, millions of businesses are employing chatbots for sales, customer service, and dozens of other functions, giving people the fluidity and directness of conversation without requiring an actual human agent to step in

Some of the advantages of this move are obvious; if a chatbot can automatically answer basic customer questions, you don’t have to hire a person for the role. You may also see a faster response time, greater consistency, and no fatigue or frustration. 

But if your intuitions are in line with the average person’s, you’ll instinctively feel like chatbots aren’t quite at the human level yet. 

So is this intuition true? And if not, could chatbots ever become better than humans? When can they do it? 

What Constitutes “Better”? 

These are complicated questions. They’re hard to answer in part because the utility of chatbots is so diverse; you can use chatbots to field customer service questions, generate leads, or even provide direct services to paying clients in some cases. 

But these questions are also difficult because we need to acknowledge what we mean by “better.” What makes a chatbot better than a human? 

There are several dimensions in which a chatbot could hypothetically be better than a human being, and in some of those dimensions, chatbots are already objectively superior. 

Consider: 

  • Cost efficiency. In terms of overall cost efficiency, there’s no comparison. Chatbots are irrefutably more cost efficient than their human counterparts. You’ll need to pay people hourly, or pay them an annual salary, for them to execute conversational tasks for 8 hours a day – plus, you’ll need to pay to train them. While chatbots do carry upfront costs (especially if you’re building a chatbot from scratch), they easily pay for themselves since they function automatically, 24/7. 
  • Availability. The availability factor is another consideration. Human beings get tired. They get hungry. They get emotionally exhausted. But this isn’t so with chatbots. True, you can compensate for human limitations by keeping people on rotating shifts, but there’s no true substitute for the 24/7 coverage that chatbots can provide. 
  • Range of service. When it comes to range of service, human beings are real contenders. Modern chatbots can be trained to cover a wide range of topics and help customers with a wide range of issues – but it all needs to be programmed and it all needs to be predictable. Human beings are still much better at handling unexpected situations and improvising; the artificial intelligence (AI) that dictates chatbot behavior isn’t general enough to support this. 
  • Range of emotion. The emotionlessness of chatbots can be an advantage; they never become frustrated, offended, or impatient. However, many people want genuine compassion or empathy when they’re engaging with an agent – especially in certain applications. For now, human beings are better at expressing emotion and giving people a genuine, “human” experience. 
  • Training and preparation. We also need to consider the training and preparation required to get a human being or chatbot up to speed. To prepare a human for a role in customer service, sales, or a similar area, you’ll likely need to spend a few days, or even a few weeks training them. Programming a chatbot can take even longer, especially if you’re designing one from scratch; but with the chatbot, you’ll never have to worry about turnover or retraining new people. Additionally, you may have to train an entire team of human beings, but you’ll only have to train one chatbot. 
  • Communication skill. Communication skill is often at the heart of this debate. Are chatbots capable of understanding what their conversational partners are saying? Can they respond articulately and completely? The short answer is yes. As we’ll see, modern chatbots are incredibly semantically advanced. 
  • Consumer preference. Currently, consumers overwhelmingly prefer speaking to a human over a chatbot. While consumers do prefer self-service most of the time, most people don’t like the idea of trying to express their thoughts and concerns to a robot. For this reason, human beings are still better – and will likely keep this advantage for the foreseeable future. 
  • Secondary benefits. There are secondary benefits to both human beings and chatbots. For example, human beings can learn from their conversations with customers and provide qualitative feedback you can use to improve your business. But with chatbots, it’s very simple to gather data directly from conversations, and analyze those data to form objective conclusions about your business’s position. 

The Turing Test and Eugene Goostman 

For many consumers, the true test of whether a chatbot is better than a human being is whether it’s at least indistinguishable from a human. In other words, are its linguistic capabilities strong enough that they could be mistaken for an actual human? 

This is, essentially, the Turing test – a test of a machine’s ability to demonstrate intelligent behavior, devised by Alan Turing in 1950. A machine is said to “pass” the test if humans consistently struggle to distinguish between a real human and a sufficiently competent machine. 

Chatbots have been capable of passing the Turing test as early as 2001, when the chatbot known as Eugene Goostman was developed. The Goostman bot emulated a 13-year-old Ukrainian boy, and could carry out simplistic, yet linguistically diverse conversations. Participants were unable to distinguish the bot as being a machine, though there are some limitations to consider here – for example, 13-year-olds aren’t expected to carry out conversations as sophisticated as fully grown adults. 

That said, we’ve technically had chatbots that rival human conversational ability for 20 years. Is this enough to qualify them as “better” than human, given their other advantages? 

The State of AI-Based Chatbots

The most advanced chatbots of the modern era are robust and highly useful. Microsoft and Google have demonstrated technology capable of understanding human speech on par with human error rates. The latter has also demonstrated a chatbot that can literally make phone calls and make rudimentary small talk when carrying out basic tasks like setting appointments. 

Other chatbot platforms showcase their advanced nature with customizability; businesses and individual customers can use the chatbot platform to build the perfect chatbot for their needs, training it and testing it to hone it to perfection. 

Exploitability and Visible Weaknesses

There are also some major weaknesses in chatbots that we need to consider. For example, many chatbots have built-in bias from their developers, which prevent them from providing service equally to all your customers.

Other chatbots are programmed to learn from real people; they’re adaptive, and they evolve by studying the speech patterns of others. While this can be a source of major strength, it’s also exploitable. For example, Microsoft’s Tay chatbot functioned similarly when it was released in 2016, and antagonistic trolls were quick to “teach” it how to wield racist and sexually charged language. 

Finding a way to preserve advantages without opening exploitable loopholes is a challenge that humans don’t generally have to contend with. 

Can Humans Ever Be Replaced? 

It’s clear that chatbots are already better than humans in some regards, and they’re not far behind in others. If we hold this true, the big question becomes: can humans ever truly be replaced? 

Even if chatbots became so perfect that they were unquestionably better than human conversational counterparts (with no exploitable weaknesses), there would be a portion of the population who always prefers speaking with humans over bots. There’s no guarantee chatbots will ever get to this point, but it remains a realistic possibility. 

In short, chatbots are already better than we would have thought possible just 20 years ago. Another 20 years could make chatbots indistinguishable from humans even to the most perceptive conversationalists. But for now, it doesn’t look like humans will ever be completely out of the picture for conversational needs. 

Nate Nead

Nate Nead is the CEO & Managing Member of Nead, LLC, a consulting company that provides strategic advisory services across multiple disciplines including finance, marketing and software development. For over a decade Nate had provided strategic guidance on M&A, capital procurement, technology and marketing solutions for some of the most well-known online brands. He and his team advise Fortune 500 and SMB clients alike. The team is based in Seattle, Washington; El Paso, Texas and West Palm Beach, Florida.

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