By Alex Lartey
As 2022 draws to a close Tovie AI would like to reflect on some of the groundbreaking innovations that we’ve seen despite it being a turbulent year for the Conversational AI industry.
We have seen digital humans evolve, revolutionary language models released, and new successful automation projects launched across various industries, which we'd like to share with you.
So, what trends will dominate the Conversational AI industry in 2023?
Conversational AI automation and custom assistants
According to UiPath’s 2022 trends report, a hybrid human-digital workforce is the new normal we should all prepare for as C-suite executives name automation among top priorities. Indeed, within the next five years, we can expect people and virtual assistants to work together more closely. This year, apart from the growing number of basic chatbot projects we’ve seen many custom industry-specific assistants with advanced functionalities appear.
For example, Wells Fargo released an interactive virtual bank teller named ‘Fargo’, as part of their expansion of financial AI tools. RAIN Technology officially introduced the Ortho voice assistant created to help with vehicle repair. While IBM and the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office announced they were testing a new AI assistant for patents, designed to help inventors avoid potential rejection and test their ideas for novelty.
What’s peculiar is that even those who have been slow in the uptake of AI, have been jumping in on the automation trend. This year, for example, we’ve seen many successful cases in the charity sector. Mencap’s ‘Understand Me’ website chatbot guides users and potential donors through a conversation with Aeren, who was born with a learning disability. WaterAid offered potential donors the chance to chat with a bot impersonating someone who would benefit directly from the charity’s support. The Royal Institute of Navigation launched a chatbot to guide website visitors through their membership opportunities. And we expect more similar projects to emerge next year.
Sophisticated AI driven by advanced language models
The industry is evolving and one of the reasons behind it is the advances in AI itself. Language models - those that actually make AI intelligent - grow and mature. For example, OpenAI’s 2020 GPT-3(Generative Pre-trained Transformer 3) language model has 175 billion parameters and was trained on 570 gigabytes of text. More recently, Microsoft and Nvidia open-sourced a model dubbed Megatron-Turing Natural Language Generation (MT-NLG), which is among the largest models for reading comprehension and natural language inference developed to date at 530 billion parameters. In August 2022, Meta released Atlas, a new retrieval-augmented language model which outperforms a 540B parameter model by 3% with only 11B parameters and 64 training.
In 2022, language model startups like AI21 Labs  secured impressive funding and forged partnerships with the likes of Google, as Cohere, for example. Of course, this has been an ongoing trend, that resulted in extraordinary projects like Rally’s contract writing AI assistant powered by OpenAI’s GPT-3 model, or AI text-to-image generator by Simplified, backed by Stability AI’s Stable Diffusion and OpenAI’s DALL-E. So, we are sure to see more in the coming years.
A new era for general-purpose voice assistants
For the past few years, the general-purpose voice assistant market has been the island of stability in the industry. The leaders were defined and all developments were more or less predictable. But 2022 changed that. It all started with Google sunsetting actions, which means that all Conversational Actions will be removed, and will no longer be available to users and developers after June 13, 2023. This could have been a chance for other players in the industry to spread their influence, but the year is ending with mass layoffs at Amazon and Meta, along with the news that their Conversational AI projects are being affected by the situation. While nothing is definite yet, there are some disturbing signs. According to Voicebot, among the projects impacted by layoffs are Alexa Auto, Alexa Skills Kit, Alexa Speech, Alexa Guard, Alexa Proactive Experiences, Alexa Routines, Alexa Video, and Alexa Marketing. Meta is reportedly shutting down production of the Portal smart displays, meaning we’re unlikely to see a Meta virtual assistant any time soon.
Some people in the Conversational AI industry already call it the end of an era, we’ll be more careful here and say there will be a new era for general-purpose voice assistants. We’ll need to wait and see what exactly will come out of it.
Whatever the future may hold for the likes of Alexa and Google Assistant, Statista predicts the number of digital voice assistants in use globally will reach 8bn. In the post-pandemic world, as people still search for more sanitary alternatives to engaging with physical objects, the demand for voice-powered interfaces continues to grow. In 2022, we’ve seen many devices and applications add voice features: from a new Buzz Lightyear toy to premium cars, to GitHub’s Copilot AI coding assistant. If this trend continues in the coming years, we can prepare for truly exciting custom virtual assistants and revolutionary voice experiences.
Further metaverse expansion
Metaverse trends are still going strong, no matter what you believe. Approximately 25% of people will spend at least one hour a day in the metaverse by 2026, Gartner research shows. Moreover, analysts predict that audiences will engage in social activities and entertainment as well as work and learn in immersive virtual worlds. A global metaverse-ready product or service would be available to 30% of companies by 2026, according to the research firm. The metaverse is clearly the future of technology, based on these numbers.
In 2022, branded metaverse projects made spectacular headlines: Netflix promoted their The Gray Man Film in a Metaverse Maze, Taco Bell hosted a contest for the first metaverse wedding, and Walmar t debuted two metaverse worlds in Roblox - you name it. While metaverse may not work for everyone, its potential is clear for retail, entertainment and education industries, so we can expect more interesting developments there.
A more down-to-earth spin on the metaverse trend, fully virtual workspaces enable employees to communicate using avatars or holograms. Analysts say that enterprises will expectedly invest 30% of their growth in metaverse technologies by 2027, and they will "reimagine" the working environment. Metaverses will enable virtual workspaces to support new immersive experiences for employees as they demand more flexible work scenarios. This may sound like a thing of the future, but synthetic media startup D-ID has begun using virtual beings for corporate training and they look shockingly realistic.
In order to survive, existing meeting solutions vendors will need to provide metaverse and virtual workspace technologies. Virtual workspaces deliver the same cost and time savings as videoconferencing, with the added benefits of better engagement, collaboration and connection.
Evolution of digital humans
Gartner named digital humans among the six trends driving near-term adoption of metaverse technologies for a good reason. In 2022, virtual human companies and projects made a quantum leap in quality. Soul Machines and IBM Watson created a virtual human concierge for Dallas Airport. Professional golfer Jack Nicklaus has returned to the digital golf course as a virtual being built by AI and synthetic media developer Soul Machines. Virtual human avatars  with wheelchairs and prostheses to match their real-world user completed the first metaverse marathon. While professional golfer Jack Nicklaus has returned to the digital golf course as a virtual being. The possibilities are endless, no wonder the digital human avatar market size is projected to reach $527.58 bn in 2030 .
- Experimental multimodal projects
However, conversational interfaces are not reduced to voice and text, as people rely on a wide range of signals in communication - from hand gestures to eye movement to body language. So, it’s only natural for people to look for experiences that combine modalities across multiple touchpoints. And the number of projects, catering to this demand is growing. Google Assistant’s recent update on smartphones enables multimodal interaction. Conversational AI startup NLX announced it was going to augment United Airlines’ customer service with multimodal virtual assistants. At the same time, SoundHound has introduced a new multimodal conversational AI feature called Dynamic Interaction as a way for businesses to apply voice AI technology to their services.
In case you missed the trend: deep fakes are manipulated media created using artificial intelligence technologies, where an artificial face or voice has been superimposed onto another person’s face or voice, resulting in a highly convincing recording of someone doing or saying something they never did.
And if you thought that Boris Johnson's deep fake was not entirely convincing, there’s a new study that found our 'deep fakes' pose the risk of creating false memories. So, deep fake detection is one of the most promising tech fields in the near future. And there are achievements already: Intel’s new AI can detect deep fakes with 96% accuracy . There are even enthusiasts who try to put deep fakes to good use: from helping people with the inability to create mental images in mind to education.
Ethics and explainable intelligence
Of course, ensuring that technology as powerful as AI is used for good, requires consolidated effort from multiple institutions and organisations. On one hand, it has been shown that language models may demonstrate undesirable behaviour, including racial, gender, and religious biases. On the other hand, the importance of explaining ML outputs and how specific data were used will only increase over time. It is important for AI/ML to be ethical and fair so that inequitable decisions can be prevented, which makes this trend important for 2023 and many years beyond.
Sadly, AI Ethics still remains one of the most undervalued fields in the industry: we all read the news about Elon Must firing Twitter’s ‘Ethical AI’ team - they worked on making Twitter’s algorithms more transparent and fair.
An AI ethical usually plays a wide range of roles, from analyzing AI's impact on society to developing responsible strategies and policies. In addition to mitigating AI harms, these workers are also working on solutions to issues like algorithms that broadcast hate speech, systems that allocate housing and benefits in a disfavored manner, and graphic and violent imagery. The number of burnout cases among responsible-AI teams is also increasing. The ethics community struggles to gain recognition from colleagues in AI despite the growing awareness of the risks posed by AI. So, if we want more transparent and safe AI experiences, we need to acknowledge the importance of AI ethicists more often.