What does it mean when a software company obsessively focused on innovating the way we use our mobile devices to see and interact with the world adds virtual voice agents? Possibly ecommerce magic, with a powerful layer of augmented reality.
That’s what’s in store with the recent acquisition of Israel-based Voca.ai by Snap, the company behind Snapchat.
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The deal was first reported by the Israeli tech news site CalCalist, which claims the price was $ 70 million, but none of the parties involved in the deal have confirmed the figure.
Most of us are now familiar with virtual voice agents that pop up when we call a customer service center with a bank or store. They can be frustrating, especially if you are upset about a transaction or in a rush. What Voca̵
This is all delivered (based on samples we’ve been listening to) through a very natural sounding virtual voice agent. The result is so impressive that credit card giant American Express invested in the startup through its Amex Ventures fund late last year. Among the use cases listed on Voca’s website are banking, insurance, legal services, and telecommunications.
So what would this dry, business-oriented customer service have to do with the messaging and AR fun at Snap? What’s really behind the takeover? Snap doesn’t say much publicly, but the more familiar you are with Snapchat, the more the potential synergy of adding Voca agents to Snap becomes apparent.
In addition to the fun Snap Lens modules that let you use augmented reality to transform your face with Snapchat, the app also lets you point your smartphone’s camera at almost any product to reveal the price and an ecommerce link, a number track to detect it information about artists and titles, scan plants and animals to detect their names and solve even complex math problems. Snap has quietly built one of the most powerful world-class and all-in-one ecommerce tools ever, though many still mistakenly view Snapchat as limited to messaging. Clearly, Snap is developing a mobile world interface largely powered by machine learning and augmented reality.
What if you took all that machine learning and ecommerce interactivity and added a smart virtual voice agent to the mix? You may suddenly find that the Snapchat app feels ‘alive’ as it guides you through its functions, whether it be buying the right product, helping you with your homework or research. More ambitiously, in the future it won’t be hard to imagine Voca’s voice agents being paired with 3D-modeled virtual AR agents, similar to what I experienced last year (limited to 2D on the desktop) with the compelling avatars of the Soul Machine customer service.
And maybe, if we’re lucky, the feature could one day be offered as part of the Lens Studio software suite, potentially enabling anyone to create an AR experience with added virtual voice assistant interactivity. Now that you can add music to your Snapchat posts, it only makes sense to eventually add a virtual voice presence for more interactive shares. That’s the dream, but for now, if Snap can just add this powerful virtual agent to its e-commerce camera-enabled offering, it could be a game changer.
Oh, and one more thing … what if Snap adds the voice agent technology to Spectacles? We’ve already seen Amazon’s Echo Frames, which don’t offer AR functionality, but are a baby step to full-fledged smart glasses by adding Alexa’s virtual assistant powers to your face, made possible with a tap of the side of the glasses. Nonetheless, most would agree that Echo Frames aren’t exactly premium in terms of build and design – something Snap excels at with the latest models from Spectacles. Adding virtual audio assistance to a few Snap Spectacles (remember the movie Her) while not sacrificing style points is something some of us would give up yesterday.
In addition, imagine that some of the machine learning-powered world knowledge inherent in the Snapchat app could one day be embedded in the Spectacles camera, so you can glimpse a doggo, on the side of your Spectacles and then the built-in Voca virtual agent whisper the mysterious dog’s name in your ear. Yes, we’re a bit ahead of ourselves in the “imagine as” department, but Snap moves pretty fast, so we shouldn’t be surprised at how quickly Voca’s algorithm is being implemented through the company’s flagship products.
Note: Speaking of Lens Studio, Snap’s annual Lens Fest, which targets creators within the Snap AR ecosystem, starts December 8 and runs through December 10. Like the company’s Partner Summit, held in June, the event will be virtual this year.