It's a feeling we all share. We're so busy, so distracted, and so short of time, but what if we could outsource all the organisational or menial tasks so that we could focus on the things that really matter?

The good news is that, powered by AI, that's precisely what is about to happen. What's less certain is the impact that these human-machine partnerships will have on the way that people interact with each other and how radically they'll disrupt the relationships we have with companies and service providers.

The changing face of personal assistance

Digital assistants are, of course, nothing new. For a couple of years now, early adopters have been using AI-enabled email plug-ins to schedule their meetings, book meeting rooms and organise their agenda. Alexa, Siri and Google manage tasks like lighting, music choices and shopping lists in millions of households. However, the next generation of digital assistants will look and act very differently.

Most home-based digital assistants already use voice interfaces, and that trend will gather pace, with touch being phased out rapidly in favour of more reactive and intuitive interactions. The holy grail here is the neural-control or brain-machine interface – commands in the form of thoughts – but voice will fill the gap until that becomes more viable.

As we migrate from touch to voice, screens and smartphones will make way for wearables such as earpieces and hololenses. But the real interface of the future may be no interface at all, or, more precisely, almost everything around us: from household devices, entertainment, security and lighting to personal vehicles.

The impact of AI assistants on business

Michael Stautz

The most significant shift could be felt by companies who will need to come to terms with a radically altered customer-company relationship.

In a digital world defined by voice rather than screens or touch, what role does the company website or webshop play? Both search and transactions could take the form of a conversation more than a typical click-based customer decision journey. In that world, the voice or voices that companies choose will define their brand every bit as much as their logo, colours and design language do today. How does the voice Coca-Cola, Apple or E.ON sound like? That's a new question with which brands will have to grapple.

However, in many cases, brands may not interact directly with their customers at all. "In the future, 75% of our customers will be non-humans," explains Michael Stautz, Innovation Strategy Manager at E.ON.

As the partnership between humans and their AI assistants becomes more intertwined, and humans and technology work together to accomplish tasks faster and more efficiently, we'll entrust our assistants with even more responsibilities. Based on predetermined criteria, our assistants will be empowered to continuously make decisions on commodity purchases like energy contracts, vehicle hire or even insurances. The exchange will be entirely bot-to-bot, consumer's agent-to-company's agent.

If the customer relationship disappears, how can brands differentiate on anything other than price?

AI requires as much of our data as possible to improve the assistance it provides; the more it can track and profile us, the better the service. In return, we expect seamless and personalised support from our AI assistants. The same will apply to the companies we engage – or our AIs engage on our behalf.

Companies must tap into that data to provide highly convenient, contextualised and smart solutions that are personalised for our exact needs. They'll also need to prove to be trustworthy and transparent in their use of our data. When privacy is dead, trust becomes everything.

If this all sounds like science fiction, it's not. The digital assistant human-machine partnership is already here and gathering pace. All companies with an eye on long-term relevance should be making plans for how they'll deal with the bot-to-bot future. If you don't believe us, just ask Alexa!         

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