A Game Changer, Smartly.ai To Offer Plug And Play Conversational Solutions For Business

With an MSc in EE and CS from 'Ecole Nationale Supérieure des Mines de Saint-Etienne' and a number of years of direct business experience under the belt, Hicham Tahiri is the Co-founder and Chief Executive of Smartly.ai, a very innovative French technology startup. During the current year, I had an intense dialogue with him and his team. I learned about their rich grasp of voice user experience design and development, and particularly I could appreciate their deep knowledge of Amazon Alexa platform. To my best information, Smartly.ai is the only one that currently offers highly user-friendly tools that allow both professional and amateur designers to rapidly prototype and present their conversational user experience concepts. Earlier last week, as the founder of Amazon Alexa Interest Group, I had a long and very interesting conversation with Hicham, which I tried to summarize and now I publish on LinkeIn.

Smartly.ai is the new name of Vocal Apps. Let's flashback to better understand when and where you and your team have started, and where you are today as a relatively mature startup.


 "It all started when Apple launched the iPhone 4s late 2011. As voice enthusiasts, we were super excited that SIRI will provide a voice assistant to millions of users. We launched Vocal Apps to offer this kind of experiences to car manufacturers. By doing that, we have built a voice assistant along with a platform to easily extend it. We rebranded Vocal Apps when we decided to expand our personal assistant to messaging channels such as SMS, Messenger, Slack, Skype and more.Smartly.ai is currently the most advanced platform to build voice and chat bots that can interact with users in natural language.Today we are totally focused on delivering value added conversational apps to businesses."

You see the emerging highly technologized world as inevitably becoming conversational. Is that only the latest fashion or buzzword following the exceptional success of Amazon Alexa platform, or there is a lot more to it?


“For many, 2016 was the year of AI, chatbots, and conversational interfaces. And... I hope it will last long after 2016! It is much more easy to do AI now than it was in the 90s, thanks to more powerful CPU/GPU, fastest connections, and bigger trained datasets. Voice recognition is now getting more than 90% success rate. We can state the same for natural language solutions that also benefit from major open source contributions.What is the role of Amazon Alexa in this trend? Alexa has been very successful to put forward a complex patchwork of technology, and to make it simple enough to quickly gain the heart and mind of the users.Although the technology has been around for a number of years, and for me, it's truly all about the integration work, yet I consider Alexa as the Tesla of voice activated products.That said, the explanation of this ‘conversational hype’ also comes from the fact that Facebook, Google, and Apple respectively announced the opening of their messaging platforms to chatbots.As messaging represents more than one billion users spending 50+ minutes a day, it is no surprise that developers are jumping in, along with investors…Now, it is all about building killer conversational apps!” 

Where do you think the Artificial Intelligence (AI) is currently headed? How much attention should we pay to certain alarmism that once in a while we hear through the media?


“Oh, that's a hard one, Max! Let me distinguish two different types of AI. First, the one type you are already using every day, the ‘Narrow AI’. It's focused on one specific task that it does very well: like a search for web pages, tag photos, play Chess or Go. Those are, I think, the less risky.The other one that arguably can raise more debate, is the ‘General AI’. We are not there yet but it is supposed to deal with any topic/tasks, learn, take decisions and even evolve.Experts, like Ray Kurzweil, estimate that we will build such an AI and that it may become smarter than us around 2040.My opinion on this is that we should definitively continue the efforts to achieve a General AI because it will help us solve several of the today's most challenging world problems (healthcare, global warming, cyber security, ...). At the same time, we have to work on the ‘moral firewalls’ that should come with such systems.Finally, I think we should thank Hawking, Musk, and their friends because they raised the public attention on this important subject." 

I understand your target customers are mainly, or exclusively the software developers. Is that a correct perception? Will your company stay behind the scene for good, or you are actually planning to bring the conversational AI to the masses by offering tools to the 'rest of us'?


“At Smartly.ai, we know that the UI of the future will be conversational. Now, we want to be part of this story and in front of the scene! The first part of the plan was to build and open a conversational AI platform for developers. We learned a lot and built an awesome piece of technology.And now, the second phase is to offer plug and play solutions for specific verticals. Banking, e-commerce, productivity, hospitality, health care, sales...the range of opportunity is huge. We are exploring some of those opportunities quite deeply right now. Expect to hear from us really soon with new products!”

Here is my last question: Why a VC should invest in Smartly.ai? And what type of investments are you looking for?

“Haha! We are planning for a series A round in 2017. I am happy to give an in-depth presentation of Smartly.ai to interested investors. They can contact me at any time.”

Contact info for Smartly.ai:
Hicham Tahiri | CEO+33760747891 | https://smartly.ai | @smartly_ai | @hicham_t 19 Boulevard Poissonnière, 75002 Paris - France

* Originally published on LinkedIn on August 29, 2016.

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