There's no word for what Talla does yet (but we'll say 'intelligent assistants' anyway)

Posted by Brooke Torres on Aug 25, 2016 10:22:00 AM

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At Talla, we describe our solutions as intelligent assistants. We chose this term because it is a fairly accurate description of what our software does, but we concede it's not very evocative. Frankly, an intelligent assistant sounds like an overqualified secretary, much like social media sounds like a particularly chatty group of journalists.

The world settled on social media as a term for online services like Twitter and Facebook, but only after trying out several other unsuccessful descriptors. In the early days, Twitter was a micro-blogging service, and Facebook was sometimes called a livestreaming platform. Both of those phrases are largely archaic now, but both are just as descriptive as social media -- except that "social media" won out.

Almost no one is developing technology like Talla's, and so there isn't an accepted term for the solutions we're creating. It's too early, but you can see the process of defining our new breed of software at work today.

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Some pundits have suggested that what Talla is developing is a conversational interface, which is a form of advanced data dashboard that highlights information in a natural, action-oriented way. Reports with conversational interfaces explain themselves to you, and suggest what you should do next. Talla's intelligent assistants do employ conversational interfaces, but they aren't merely dashboards or reports you consume more easily. Unlike most conversational interfaces, Talla's intelligent assistants are proactive.

Others have suggested that Talla is merely a slick implementation of machine learning, which was seminally described as a "field of study that gives computers the ability to learn without being explicitly programmed." Machine learning teaches computers to recognize patterns in sets of data, and imitate or react to those patterns in effective ways. Talla's intelligent assistants absolutely employ machine learning, but we apply this technology towards specific everyday business tasks, rather than abstract research topics. Unlike most machine learning projects, Talla's intelligent assistants are practical.

The more cynical observers might decry Talla's intelligent assistants as mere chatbots, programs that respond to cues in online conversations with predetermined replies. For example, the Slackbot within the Slack messaging system can be explicitly configured to reveal the local Wi-Fi password if anyone in a particular Slack team types the words "wi-fi password." On the surface, Talla's intelligent assistants do function in a manner similar to chatbots, but with the advantage of developing their own responses without being programmed. Unlike most chatbots, Talla's intelligent assistants are self-improving.

Talla is developing technology that combines conversational interfaces and machine learning to create domain-specific chatbots that evolve and improve over time to become more useful -- and more customized to your organization's specific practices and personnel. For the time being, we've decided to label this confluence of natural language processing, artificial intelligence, and learning management systems as intelligent assistants.

The label may not catch on, and the market may decide that some other phrase becomes the preferred term of art for the solutions Talla creates. If so, like the intelligent assistants Talla makes, we'll adapt. After all, the hallmark of an intelligent assistant is that it always knows what you're talking about. So no matter what you call Talla's intelligent assistants, they'll still be ready to help you.

You have our word on that.

Topics: intelligent assistants

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