NPR’s All Things Considered just broadcast a story by Stephen Henn entitled “Speak Up! Advertisers Want You to Talk with New Apps.” This story talked about the idea of interactive advertising, and starts off with a Vanity chat-ad-bot that starts off by asking Steve “What’s your favorite type of liquor?” Remember that these advertising systems, by the very fact that they are utterly interactive, are also utterly customized. Software has perfect memory, and so every answer you give informs a body of knowledge that has no expiry. It has value, and companies can collect it, then turn and sell it, analyze it and convert knowledge to high-likelihood sales. Professor Cliff Nass at Stanford- a colleague of mine- reports in the show that the sound of a human voice emanating from these chat-bots encourages people to treat them more like humans- and I would go further yet, suggesting that our natural defenses against revealing private information are ever more easily overcome with just the right playful, or perhaps authoritative, voice. One nice trick the software engineers use: the voices are pre-recorded human voices- so they couldn’t be more natural. Nothing in the inflection or pronunciation reminds you, in real time, that you’re talking to a cloud-based robo-entity rather than a single human being sitting in a call center.
In the end, interactivity buys individual customization and individual data-gathering at a degree that advertisers a few years ago wouldn’t even have dreamed possible. Now they will have to figure out just how to make sense (make money) from a huge potential windfall of person-specific behavioral information.