May 2016 archive

The Evolution of Lara: She’s Talking.

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Artificial intelligence. There’s a certain magic attached to these words.

Among the countless films made on artificial intelligence, my favourite is the 2013 film Her. A damaged Joaquin Phoenix falls in love with a sublime Scarlett Johansson…’s voice. Yes, voice. She’s an artificial intelligence-powered computer operating system — and she is spectacular.

Why I’m referencing films in my posts (once more) is just to emphasize how much in love we are with the possibility of an AI-driven future. Films like Hercan’t help but evoke some interesting questions that we find ourselves answering now:

Is it finally happening? Has the artificial intelligence take-over — romanticised and dramatised in countless art forms — finally happened?

To some extent, I’d say yes.

The bot revolution is coming.

The reign of the all-powerful app might be coming to an end. People are saturated with a million different app UIs jostling for space on their phones — and all signs point to a clean, universally-recognised messaging service (like a chat bot) as the way of the future.

Right now, bots are exploding as the future face of business. Facebook Messenger has already integrated bots last month. Google just announced Allo, a smart messaging app powered by its brand-new ‘Assistant’ (a conversational AI helper), which ‘learns over time” to make conversations easier and more productive. So yes, I’ll say it again — the bot revolution is coming.

To fully understand the true potential of an AI bot-driven future, we need to think beyond the concept of virtual assistants capable of fulfilling your needs through a conversational interface. That is what bots do, yes — but it’s more than that.

Lara is more than that.

Lara is the WowTables virtual concierge — and she is about to change the way we interact with the dining space. You can read more about how she came into being over here.

Over the past few weeks, it’s been hard to control the sheer excitement of building Lara. I cannot wait to introduce her to everyone.

So how far along is Lara?

Well, she’s alive. And she’s talking.

We’re in the middle of building Lara’s conversational logic by pulling in pools of ambient user data from our vast stores of information and creating end-to-end situational solutions for our users.

Let’s break it down a bit. Here’s what Lara does:
a) She maps your user behaviour till now (previous bookings, stored preferences of cuisine, location etc) and suggests a dining experience based on her prior knowledge of you.
b) If you agree with her suggestion, Lara will take you directly to a page where you can book your table.
c) If you don’t agree with her suggestion, she’ll ask you to talk to her a little more about what you’re looking for. She absorbs and stores the vital bits of information in this conversation as another piece of the user puzzle she’s putting together. And boom. You’ve just helped build Lara.

One quick and ridiculously simple chat later, your plans for the night are sorted. Bon appétit.

Building a complex and beautiful creature like Lara will take a bit of time but here’s a peek at what users will be able to experience very soon:

In the coming weeks, Lara will go live on Facebook Messenger. We’re now looking to integrate with Google Allo — the search giant has announced that it’s working on a “comprehensive way” for third parties to tap into the AI-powered, conversation-oriented helper. They’ve tied up with Opentable in the US for restaurant reservations — I figured, why not us here? And why stop there — with Google, voice-activated conversations with Lara are just a step away.

PS: I’m looking for a connect at Google to get this started — so if any of you know of someone who can help me, please drop me a message in the comments below or email me at [email protected].

I don’t think I could adequately convey just how immensely exciting this whole process is. It’s like growing life — organic, pulsating, breathing life — on previously barren land. It’s such a rush. It’s artificial intelligence, yes — but it’s building towards a future that’s real, bright and bursting with possibilities.

If you’re as excited about Lara as I am, click here to be in our exclusive pool of beta testers when we release.

Till the next big step.

Kunal Jain
Founder
WowTables

Introducing Lara.

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We’re working on something exciting and game-changing – and her name is Lara.

To know who Lara is and why she’s going to be an important part of your life, check out this snippet from an article by our founder Kunal Jain below:

I can’t wait for everyone to meet Lara. Before I explain exactly who Lara is (and why I’m talking about her more than I do about my own wife), I’d like to explain how Lara and I met.

It all started when I was asked a fairly standard question by a journalist: what do I love most about WowTables? Like most founders, I found myself torn between various aspects of what we do: from our painstaking curation of menus and our ever-evolving relationship with our partner restaurants to the crux of our business — guiding diners through an overwhelming world of dining choices.

But to be honest, what I personally love the most is the way we get to know our users. Years of personal interaction with our users has helped us build a huge storehouse of knowledge. Knowledge that lets us answer a million asked and unasked questions and gives us a unique insight into the mindset of today’s diner. Nurturing this form of personalised relationship building, however, takes up an exhaustive amount of manpower — something that is just not sustainable in the long run. Which is why my team and I have been working on finding a more long-term solution.

We were cracking our heads over this when I began to grasp that there was something much bigger to accomplish here. Yes, we needed to keep expanding our deep knowledge base and yes, we need to keep honing our skills as a dining guide for our customers. But then I thought: why stop there? With the dining space being as overcrowded as it is — with food tech apps and services around every corner — why not shake things up a bit?

That’s when we started working on one of our most interesting developments yet — one that could very well be a massive game-changer in the dining space.

Meet Lara — an artificial intelligence powered dining guide.

I’m really excited about this. By merging globally emerging artificial intelligence technology with the deep user and restaurant data that we have access to, Lara cuts down the manpower required to nurture our user relationship while continuing to evolve our user knowledge database. To put it simply: she absorbs user data (where you like to eat, your favourite food, where you’ve eaten before, where and what your friends are eating, what dietary restrictions do you have, etc) and makes sure your dining plans are taken care of — from recommending restaurants and food to making reservations for you.

The leap to artificial intelligence technology is a big one — one that might take some time to fully implement. But we’re moving fast. Lara is already live right now. To start with, we’re using a simple predictive algorithm based on user data that provides customised dining recommendations to users.

This is how Lara looks right now:

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But like I said before, this is just the first step. We are working with AI tech companies to transform Lara into an omnipresent, multi-platform artificial intelligence concierge — one that has real-time conversations with users, builds ever-evolving user profiles, and makes and confirms restaurant reservations.

The beauty of Lara lies in her astonishing simplicity in understanding complexities. As she gets to know her users better, she hones and improves the accuracy of her offered solutions. Think of an almost living, breathing, constantly evolving system — one that grows in intelligence the more you interact with her. So simple. So astounding.

The possibilities from a move like this are boundless.

For one, we intend to integrate Lara with communication giants like Whatsapp, Facebook Messenger and Google – which might even render website or app-driven businesses obsolete.

Picture this: for whatever reason (birthday/anniversary/forgot your anniversary but can’t let her find out) you’re looking for a nice meal at a nice restaurant. Instead of browsing through a tiresome amount of sites and apps and portals, all you need to do is have one simple conversation with Lara (she knows what you like) — and voila. Restaurant picked, table booked, ready and waiting.

Exciting times lie ahead.

As you can see, we’ve already got a functional form of Lara live on our web and app assets — and we’re knee-deep in the AI development stage of the process. It’s been fascinating to nurture and grow living technology like this.

What’s next? I can’t wait to find out.

Couldn’t have said it any better. Stay tuned to our series on Lara, right here.

UPDATE: Lara’s talking! Read about step 2 in the Lara journey here.