What We Learned at the European and African Summits in 2021
Edinburgh, Scotland is a hub of conversational AI – littered with startups, labs, established businesses, and University departments focused on the topic. As an industry-funded Conversational AI PhD Researcher, I was approached by Sydney to help organise the European Chatbot and Conversational AI Summit in Edinburgh.
Of course, the event was eventually hosted online due to COVID, but that just meant we could invite even more attendees to watch our fantastic lineup of speakers.
I also agreed to help organise the African event, the first of its kind! This event highlighted many wonderful applications of this technology in Africa, but also the great range of challenges we have yet to tackle. I unfortunately have to stand down as a co-organiser of these events (due to the time my research demands), but I am looking forward to attending the Ibero-American event in May. If you want to be involved with these events in any way, you can contact Sydney here.
Without further ado, let’s run through a few event stats and then highlight what we learned at these two events.
In February, at the European event, we hosted 1,200 attendees to hear from 46 speakers.
Dr Kulvinder Panesar said: “This is the best paid conference I have been to – especially in my niche area, conversational AI and NLP, which I have been part of for the last decade. The sessions, that I tapped into, were amazing and inspiring with great speakers and discussions. I now have some great names to connect to. Thank you very much.”
In March, at the African event, we hosted 1,000 attendees to hear from 44 speakers.
An attendee said: “I would like to say thank you for the conference. It was very interesting for me as a linguist, who stumbled across the field of conversational AI last year.”
In total, we had 67 sessions over the two events. I have therefore decided to share a 1–2 sentence message from each session. I have also linked the session’s recording on Youtube for on-demand viewing. This is essentially a catalogue for you to browse bit-by-bit at your own pace. I will run through them in the following order: keynotes, panels, speakers, workshops, and exhibition.
Title: Chatbots for Social Good – Addressing the Conflict Between User Requirements, Technical Constraints, and Ethical Considerations
By: Professor Michael McTear, Emeritus Professor at Ulster University
Message: Chatbots can benefit people when applied to mental health support, care for older adults, dealing with harassment, etc… but these dialogues don’t just require more complex interactions, they raise many ethical concerns.
Title: Beyond Bots: Bringing Natural Language to Chat & Scaling Self-Service Messaging Channels
By: Cliff Haas, VP of Messaging, Sales and Strategy at Inference Solutions
Message: Almost half of customers won’t do business with a company if they can’t provide online chat and messaging channels, so you must know how to deploy IVAs quickly, affordably and effectively.
Title: Conversational Journeys
By: Ries Deijkers, CEO and Founder of Chatbots.Expert
Message: Classic customer journeys are moving to conversational customer journeys, enabling a new kind of business process automation and optimisation.
Title: The Impact and ROI of AI/NLP Chatbots
By: Stewart Mackay, Team Lead at CM.com
Message: There are many huge benefits of rolling out conversational AI to both the consumer and organisation, but there are benefits to the contact centre agents too.
Title: What Does the Future of Conversational AI Innovation Look Like? Do I Have the Knowledge Needed to Keep Pace with Innovation?
By: Sasha Caskey, CTO and Co-Founder of Kasisto
Message: Understanding the future of conversational AI can help address uncertainties and empower your organisation to adopt AI into your customer experience and support models.
Title: Can Chatbots Serve Africa?
By: Frederick Apina, CEO of Belltro
Message: Africa has been seeing slower adoption of chatbots due to poorer understanding of how chatbots can add value to businesses, but that is now changing.
Title: Conversational AI for Good
- Alice Smith, CEO of SpeakUnique
- Angus Addlesee, PhD Researcher at Heriot-Watt University
- Christina Boididou, Data Scientist at the BBC
- Pooja Jain, CEO and Founder of CogniHealth
- Saturnino Luz, Reader at The University of Edinburgh
Message: The performance of voice technologies can improve our lives and these five people are doing exactly this. The panel discussed synthetic voices, digital companions, ethical considerations for the mass market, using speech to improve healthcare screening, and voice accessibility.
Trending Bot Articles:
Title: The State of Conversation Design and Future Trends
- Brynn Chadwick, Lead Product Designer at NIB Health Funds
- Greg Bennett, Conversation Design Principal at Salesforce
- Hans van Dam, Co-Founder and Dean at the Conversation Design Institute
- Nikki Dunagan, Conversation Designer at Oracle
- Srini Janarthanam, Conversational AI Engineer at NatWest
Message: Companies developing Conversational AI experiences need to look beyond the technology to the implementation and design of dialogue to achieve success and sustainability. This panel discussed how their organisations (of various sizes and industries) approach this work, the tools they use, their team operations, and key insights they leverage in their design strategy.
Title: Conversational AI in the Service Industry
- Kirill Elsukov, Head of Innovation Lab at PIB Cardif
- Marco Li Mandri, Principal Product Owner at ING
- Ruth Engemann, Conversational AI Designer at E.ON
- Shnay Chohan, Senior AI Product Manager at NatWest
Message: The current state of the art Virtual Assistants can be built at scale to create huge financial benefits. This panel discusses the best practices to do this, and how to prepare the road for the future.
Title: Voice Assistants and the Path to Ubiquitous Computing
- Anshumali Baruah, UX Designer at Deutsch Telekom AG
- Christine Hart, Global Voice Coordinator at Nestle
- Hannes Ricklefs, Lead Architect at BBC
- Jeff Dalton, Assistant Professor at The University of Glasgow
- Mohamed Hassan, Senior Voice AI Experience Architect at VUI Agency
Message: This panel discussed how Voice and Virtual Assistants are stepping stones towards ubiquitous computing. They focused on the impact on users, brands, tools, technology, research, and what each of these areas are doing now to prepare for this future.
Title: AI and NLP at the Intersection Between Academia and Industry in Africa
- Eunice Mutahi, Data Management Associate at Evidence Action
- Luke Okelo, Lecturer at The Technical University of Kenya
- Mutembei Kariuki, Co-Founder of Fastagger
- Tunde Oladimeji, Technical Program Manager at Facebook
Message: Conversational AI is starting to become a part of people’s everyday lives in the continent of Africa. This panel discussed the current challenges to focus on within African society, using this technology.
Title: African Digital Renaissance – How African Researchers are Creating Data and Models for NLP
- Jade Abbott, Senior Machine Learning Engineer at Retro Rabbit
- Joyce Nakatumba-Nabende, Lecturer at Makerere University
- Paul Kennedy, Community and Communication Manager at Zindi Africa
- Thierno Ibrahima, Lead Data Scientist at Baamtu
Message: For NLP to progress further in Africa, the many African languages need to be digitised. This panel discusses the organisations driving this from speech recognition in Wolof, to machine translation into Luganda.
Title: Conversational AI in Africa – The Promises and Pitfalls
- Antoine Paillusseau, CEO of FinChatBot
- Frederick Apina, CEO at Belltro
- Harmony Mothibe, Founder of BotsZA
- Johan Steyn, Senior Manager at IQbusiness
- Michal Stanislawek, CEO at HearMe.AI
Message: Conversational AI can open the door to better service delivery in Africa’s rural areas. This panel discusses how we can adapt this technology for markets in Africa, and what pitfalls to avoid in the process.
Title: Social Conversational AI
By: Alexandros Papangelis, Senior Applied Scientist at Amazon Alexa AI
Message: In order to make conversational AI suitable for social interactions we need to work on knowledge-grounded conversations, new dialogue policies, and commonsense reasoning.
Title: Using Voice Games as a Marketing Tool
By: Karol Stryja, CCO of utter.one and Michal Stanislawek, CEO of HearMe.AI
Message: Voice games can be grown organically and used as marketing tools for brand awareness. There also needs to be more tools that support various European languages, like Polish.
Title: Utilising Avatars to Create Social Presence Online
By: Gregor Hofer, CEO of Speech Graphics
Message: Emerging technologies can generate vocal cues as well as gestures and expressions, to convey socially richer information, which ultimately creates the perception of social presence.
Title: Conversation-Driven Development
By: Alan Nichol, CTO and Co-Founder of Rasa
Message: It is impossible to anticipate all the things your user could say but conversation-driven development, a blueprint for applying conversational AI practices, can be used to develop AI assistants that continuously improve over time.
Title: Designing Voice Interfaces for Kids
By: Luke Janissen, Conversational Designer at Greenhouse BV
Message: Many adults find it ‘awkward’ talking to a voice assistant, but this is not the case for children. Child-focused voice apps need to can therefore be used to educate children, while remaining fun, if designed correctly.
Title: Safety for Conversational AI
By: Verena Rieser, Professor of Conversational AI at Heriot-Watt University
Message: Commercial conversational AI systems rely heavily on hand-written rules and templates, whereas research systems apply neural end-to-end methods for response generation. These neural response generation systems raise safety concerns due to the lack of control.
Title: Building Blocks for Bots: How to Design and Orchestrate Complex Bots
By: Sascha Wolter, Chief Advisor of Conversational AI at Deutsche Bahn
Message: There are several conversational patterns which help to tackle complex interactions beyond simple FAQs. These patterns are also reusable, creating a kit that includes process models, advanced conversational designs, and creative technical approaches.
Title: Use Cases and Challenges for Voice Interactions in the Auto Industry
By: Jesús Martin, Senior VUI Designer at Amazon Alexa Auto and Shyamala Prayaga, Digital Assistants Product Owner at Ford
Message: Voice assistants are extremely beneficial in the Automotive industry, allowing people to keep their hands on the wheel and eyes on the road. This environment poses a set of new challenges however.
Title: Conversational AI – Beyond the Magic
By: Maaike Groenewege, Conversation Designer at Convocat
Message: Deep learning will not instantly create perfect chatbots for you, it requires a lot of human effort in reality.
Title: Conversation Design Best Practices – Enterprise for Customer Support
By: Greg Bennett, Conversation Design Principal at Salesforce
Message: The Einstein Bot Builder can help make your chatbot design process quick and easy (in English).
Title: Five Things to Consider When Investing in Chatbots
By: Anand Tamboli, Author and Speaker at Anand Tamboli & Co
Message: Conversational AI is a substantial investment but they are not simply technology projects, they have larger impacts on other parts of your business, so it is vital to ask the right questions and invest in the right solution for you.
Title: Investing in Bots – Product Development Circle
By: Casper Guldager, Manager and Head of Sales at KPMG NewTech
Message: Successful investments into chatbots can enable organisations to deliver on the future needs of customers and result in an operation with close to zero cost of scale.
Title: Getting a Job in Conversational AI
By: Allys Parsons, Conversational AI Recruiter and Co-Founder of Techire AI
Message: Conversational AI can be a bit of a minefield when it comes to figuring out the right roles to search for, the skills to highlight, and the salary to expect.
Title: Expanding the Chatbot Capabilities to the Telephone Channel
By: Livio Pugliese, CEO North America at Interactive Media
Message: Digital channels now carry the majority of customer service interactions, but the traditional phone channel is still busy. Integrating chatbots with the telephone is worthwhile but not trivial, with several obstacles in terms of technology and conversational experience.
Title: Chatbots for Customer Service – Saving Money and Time
By: Sahar Gebreil, Chatbot Specialist at the Federal Tax Authority in Dubai
Message: Chatbots allow companies to regain time which they can use to grow their business.
Title: Voice Assistants as a Brand’s Digital Front Door – 5 Key Learnings
By: Christoph Esslinger, Managing Director at VUI.Agency
Message: In the coming decade, we will see voice assistants becoming the main entry point into a brand’s universe. The ability to just speak out your wish or question to a trusted virtual representative will become the starting point of a user’s journey.
Title: The Omnichannel Solution – Chatbots and Voice
By: Gary Williams, Director of Sales and Consultancy for UK and Ireland at SPITCH and Liam Ryan, Sales Director at Creative Virtual
Message: Seamless omnichannel support (advancing beyond a multichannel approach) allows users to type, tap, and talk across channels – never having to start over as they begin interactions in one channel and continue it in another.
Title: Voice Interaction in Mixed Reality
By: Matthias Wölfel, Professor at Karlsruhe University of Applied Sciences
Message: Speech is considered the most natural way to communicate, but experiments show that there isn’t always a benefit to the user in virtual reality. In mixed reality however, voice interaction can be incredibly helpful.
Title: The Proven Conversation Design Workflow
By: Hans van Dam, Co-Founder & Dean of the Conversation Design Institute
Message: By following a good conversational design workflow, your various teams can unify the best of technology, psychology, and language to unlock the potentials of conversational AI.
Title: The Path to True Transformation with CAI
By: Kane Simms, CEO of VUX World
Message: Conversational AI is often stuck within the development phase, as organisations struggle to scale it into business as usual. Scaling while maintaining a conversational AIs quality is possible though.
Title: Let’s Free Humans from Boring Tasks
By: Andres Pulgarin, CEO of BotsLovers
Message: Many people spend their days answering the same customer questions on the phone, through chat systems, through social networks, email, etc… We can use conversational AI to take these tedious questions, leaving humans with more time to work on the interesting tasks.
Title: Conversational AI – Unlocking the Future of Africa
By: Johan Steyn, Senior Manager at IQbusiness
Message: The African tech industry has seen a remarkable surge over the past few years and conversational AI will play a crucial role in the development of commerce, education, wellness, and healthcare in Africa.
Title: Impact of Deep Learning Based Chatbots in Reducing Attrition
By: Raul Villamarin Rodriguez, Dean of the School of Business at Woxsen University
Message: Employee engagement and retention can be very challenging, especially if their work involves repeated tedious tasks. By incorporating chatbots into your workflow, you can reduce the burden from your staff and reduce attrition.
Title: Conversational Interfaces in an Insurance Company
By: Kirill Elsukov, Head of the Innovation Lab at PIB Cardif
Message: Innovation in big companies is known to be very challenging but Cardif Russia integrated a chatbot into its websites and developed a conversational agent that serves 40% of their call centre’s incoming calls.
Title: Contextual Voice Experiences
By: Mohamed Hassan, Senior Voice AI Experience Architect at VUI Agency
Message: Users now constantly expect voice assistants to have better speech recognition and understand them better, but contextual design can really enhance future voice experiences.
Title: Operating a Chatbot on Your Own – From an Idea to a Data Machine
By: Henry Ginsburg, Conversation Designer at the University of the People
Message: If you are developing a chatbot on your own, then you need to: (1) plan and find the resources you need, (2) map and plan out the conversations, (3) launch and be ready to fix unexpected issues, and (4) continuously monitor and update for long term maintenance.
Title: Inclusive Conversation Design
By: Shyamala Prayaga, Digital Assistants Product Owner at Ford
Message: The voice assistant industry has boomed in recent years, and is expected to continue to grow significantly. There is a lot of focus on tools and resources to improve these systems for the majority of users, but we should also consider making them inclusive for all.
Title: Using Chatbots to Fight the COVID-19 Infodemic
By: Andrew Bredenkamp, Chairman at Translators without Borders and Rodrigue Bashizi, Community Engagement Officer at Translators without Borders
Message: There is a huge amount of information surrounding COVID-19 and it is difficult to keep up. In order to fight this “infodemic” with a chatbot, it must be able to have an engaging two-way conversation in several languages.
Title: Introducing Women in Voice, a community for women and diverse people working in or pivoting to the voice technology space.
By: Romina Pankoke, Director of Chapters at Women in Voice
Message: Women in Voice has been expanding vibrantly since it was founded in 2018. It now has a strong global community with 20 chapters in 15 countries on 5 continents.
Title: Chatbot Ecosystems Overview and Investing in Bots
By: Resham Sivnarain, Digital Technologist at Nedbank
Message: Chatbot ecosystems have become more and more interconnected and complex. These ecosystems are driven by a blend of customer needs and innovation, they need to be aligned with business needs for overall success.
Title: Develop a Google Action with Action Builder – Example for Kruger National Park
By: Menno Zevenbergen, Head of Conversational AI at Greenhouse BV
Message: Google released “Action Builder” in 2020 which can be used to build voice apps on Google Assistant with the latest technology.
Title: Making Technology Personal
By: Rishal Hurbans, Author and Co-Founder of Viszen.tech
Message: Technology has become an extension of us all, and we are teaching machines with almost every interaction we have. This data can be used to develop more personalised services.
Title: Conversation Driven Development
By: Eden Constantino, Machine Learning Engineer at the Disruption Lab
Message: It is important to have a user-centric development approach to ensure digital solutions in Africa are not just imported from other continents. The people in the UK and the people in Namibia are likely to use different phrases for example, so an imported solution will not perform as well.
Title: Representation and Inclusivity in Chatbot Solutions
By: Tumelo Setlaba, Co-Founder and Head of Operations of Enlabeler and Esther Hoogstad, Co-Founder and CEO of Enlabeler
Message: Local language datasets are rare so need to be prioritised through collaboration and community in order to ensure future voice assistants are more inclusive.
Title: Rasa Workshop – Conversations from the Command Line
By: Vincent Warmerdam, Research Advocate at Rasa
Message: Starting from scratch, you will build a voice assistant that you can talk to from the command line. Vincent also explains how the setup can be extended to handle Non-English as well as custom responses. The workshop is intended for a technical audience but you’re not expected to have in-depth knowledge of python. If you’ve got a modern laptop with python installed, you should be good to go for this workshop.
Title: Inference Solutions Workshop – Building Call Deflection to Chatbot
By: Cliff Haas, VP of Messaging, Sales and Strategy at Inference Solutions
Message: In this workshop Cliff builds an intelligent virtual agent that resides in an inbound call centre and acts to shift the caller to a chat session that automates fulfilling their needs.
Title: Chatbots.Expert Workshop – Mapping a Conversational Customer Journey
By: Ries Deijkers, CEO and Founder of Chatbots.Expert
Message: Ries hosted a workshop on mapping a conversational customer journey.
Title: Successfully Deploying and Accelerating Adoption of Conversational AI Technology in Africa
- Justin Arnoldi, Head of Digital Transformation at Blue Turtle
- Ravi Govender, Digital Executive at Nedbank
- Sasha Caskey, Co-Founder and CTO of Kasisto
- Stephen Epstein, CMO of Kasisto
Message: Current digital trends are accelerating the adoption of virtual assistants within the banking industry. This requires new strategies to meet the ever-changing needs of banking customers on the African continent.
Title: Building your Next Chatbot Solution
By: Waziri Shebogholo, CEO of Belltro and Nyamos Waigama, Operations Lead at Belltro
Message: This workshop covered whether you need a chatbot, the chatbot building journey, and where to get started.
Finally, we had a virtual exhibition area for our sponsors. In alphabetical order for both events, go and check out:
- Blue Turtle Technologies / Kasisto
- Conversation Design Institute
- The Data Lab
- Fluido AI
- Inference Solutions, a Five9 Company
- Interactive Media
- Spitch / Creative Virtual
- Techire AI
Don’t forget to give us your 👏 !
The Current State of Chatbots and Conversational AI across Europe and Africa – A Catalogue was originally published in Chatbots Life on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.