Issue 15: Human Chatbots

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Welcome to Backstory, a weekly newsletter turning global technology shifts into a three-minute read. We’re thinking about what makes for a smooth customer service interaction. Press one for a representative. – Joseph Dana, Senior Editor


Human Chatbots


There you are about to book a big summer holiday. You’ve searched flights and found a great deal for a perfect Airbnb. Most of the planning has happened in stolen moments at work between coffee breaks. Everything has been organised but something is missing. You haven’t actually spoken with a single person about the trip. Can you, for example, fit a trip to the Louvre and Versailles into a single day? For all the convenience of booking the trip on the internet and your phone, some logistics require a human hand.

Chatbot future: Mundane tasks like booking flights and hotels were once handled by human beings. Now we book them online with the assistance of chatbots. These artificially intelligent programmes are able to handle incredible amounts of data, speed up transactions, and increase the overall satisfaction of businesses and consumers. Governments are using them to field myriad service requests. But these advanced programmes still lack the human touch.

Guiding hand: Booking a complex holiday to a far away destination, as some of us in the Xische office are doing for the Eid al Adha holiday, is one of those tasks where a red-blooded human can be the missing ingredient. Chatbots are revolutionary and transforming how business is done. But until a time when they can replace us and our questions, humans remain at the core of the customer service experience.


"It has become appallingly obvious that our technology has exceeded our humanity."

Albert Einstein


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Big bespoke data: Over the past weeks, we've reflected on the use of data collection in our lives. While there are certainly challenges when it comes to data (we’re looking at you, Facebook), there's nothing to fear about data collection. In fact, data is helping us find better products, get healthy, and lead more fulfilling lives.

A fresh index: We’ve compiled our own smart city index to find out exactly what’s working and what needs improvement in global smart cities. More people than ever before are living in cities, and these urban spaces are globally connected by commerce, aviation, and culture. In that spirit, we’ve set out to determine which cities are the best at implementing technology and highlighting the humanexperience in urbanism; where collaboration is thriving; and which cities remain true to their roots. The results – coming this week – might surprise you.



Vertical farms: After the blockbuster success of the Beyond Meat IPO, everyone is clamouring for the next environmentally sound investment. Vertical farming is the ticket. The idea is to grow new crops indoors and reduce costs through technology and scale. AeroFarms, a leading US vertical farming company, just raised a fresh $100mn. Gulf countries like the UAE are investing in vertical farming to solve local food security challenges. The future is in the air.

Shining light: Staying on the environment theme, Abu Dhabi announced the world’s largest single-site solar energy plant this week. With 3.2mn solar panels covering the site, to say that the project is big is an understatement. When the plant reaches maximum capacity, it will reduce carbon emissions in the country by a million tonnes a year. That’s the same as taking 210,000 cars off the road!


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