Russian bots are not just for election meddling anymore.
Bots, whether Russian or American made, can also pose as virtual assistants ready to help an existing sales team, or build one where there wasn’t one before. Dmitry Kochin is a Russian ‘Botman’, taught the tools of the trade at the Moscow Institute for Physics and Technology, where he earned his PhD in computer science in 2006. His three-year old company, FuturologyAI, has a team of five developers, all of them sitting in an office in Moscow, building what he calls a “virtual sales force” and training bots to better understand human conversation. He took the tech commercial in August 2019.
“This technology is a way for you to have a real salesperson with many mini-me’s working for you,” he says, in reference to the character Mini-Me in the Austin Power series played by the late Verne Troyer. Kochin created bots as sales assistants for the first time in January 2015.
The Futurology bot searches through keywords for new leads. New leads are passed on to the sales team. That’s the simple view, without messing around under the hood. Basically, FuturologyAI is a software as a service (SaaS) platform that consists of a semantic language core, connected with a self-learning AI neural network continually being expanded to understand human interaction. The brain of that network is called “Caty”.
The machine is being taught how to talk to people by 19 year old Alina Al Khussin, known as the “Mother of Caty” at FuturologyAI’s research and development lab called AI Psy Lab.
“It’s like being the mother of a five year old that you want everyone to know, and like,” she says. “I’m trying to teach her to be more human…someone who can answer questions, or give advice,” she says.
Kochin’s first “digital double” was his business partner Alexander Neymark, now FuturologyAI’s chief product officer. Neymark’s virtual Alex raised money in 2017 for a startup in the crypto space called Humaniq based out of London. All told, virtual Alex helped raise $2.3 million for companies.
“If you’re trying to sell mass ticket items like cell phones then this might not be for you, but if you’re a small business – you’re selling tires, you run a bodega – the virtual assistant AI will get you more leads,” says Neymark; the real him, not the textualized version. “The bigger the sales target audience, the bigger the lead volume. The bigger the lead volume, the more sales you can generate,” he says. “That’s what this solution is for.”
FuturolgyAI won an award for the “most secure AI platform” by a company called Washington Elite, organizers of the Miami Blockchain Week conference, a small conference of around 300 people, held on January 22. Crypto billionaires like Brock Pierce, and the usual blockchain circuit travelers like Bobby Lee were all there.
“We were all impressed with how they were keeping things secure in the cloud. We liked their approach,” says Bruce Porter, Jr., founder of Washington Elite.
FuturologyAI’s intellectual property is registered in the U.S.
While Russian bots may get a lot of press, all of it negative, FuturologyAI is tiny and not involved in persuading people from doing anything other than what the company who uses its technology asks of it. They only have two clients. One in New York. One in London. Both have Russia ties. Both are looking to drum up new customers for business.
Elena Ocher is a New York surgeon by way of Saint Petersburg. Her private practice is on Park Avenue in New York, not far from the Guggenheim Museum outside Central Park. She’s a pain specialist. In her past life, she worked as a medic for the Russian military. Back then, they had this special compound used to treat pain. She used it on patients, including famous ones whose names cannot be released due to patient client privilege. She added to this compound, had it made by an FDA certified chemist in Texas named Mark Potter who developed skin creams for L’Oreal. And Chuda Skincare was born, used for healing scar tissue after surgery.
It’s won awards, including a 2018 award from O: The Oprah Magazine. Ocher was branching out, but had no sales team.
Through a mutual contact in the New York business community named Max Smetannikov, now FuturologyAI’s U.S. chief executive, Ocher was introduced to the Botman. They never met in person. They created a bot in November to manage a Chuda Skincare page on LinkedIn to help draw sales on their own e-commerce website.
“We use them to find new markets,” Ocher says. “We wanted to reach as many dermatologists and plastic surgeons offices as we could find on LinkedIn. It’s been amazing. We are still going through all these leads we got from just one bot,” she says. “When I say ‘all’, I mean thousands.”
Out of that, she says about 300 may become new customers.
“I didn’t want to hire a sales team. Chuda is not my core business, but it’s growing. Without this technology, it would take me forever to find these customers,” she says.
The Chuda Skincare bot was programmed to search LinkedIn via keywords like medi-spas, plastic surgeons, and dermatologists. The bot could expand its search if they programmed it to reach out via emails to ski resorts or cruise lines, for example.
“My sales team would normally get 20 or 30 leads a day. That’s good for one person,” he says. “On a scale of one to five, did the Futurology virtual assistants get me good leads? Absolutely a five,” Romanovsky says.
According to Gartner, up to 25% of businesses could be using virtual assistants in customer service within the next few years. These will be powered by artificial intelligence, like Caty herself, reading emails, communicating via social media and making phone calls almost as good as a real person. For step one sales and cold calls, or even basic information gathering for sales teams looking to build a book of business, virtual assistants are becoming the norm.
In 2018, Google famously demonstrated their own virtual assistant that booked personal appointments like salon visits.
Amazon’s Alexa for Hospitality has already been placed in Marriott Hotels, allowing guests to order room service, request housekeeping, book spa treatments, play music and adjust the lighting and temperature in their rooms.
Amazon’s Echo technology is installed in Safeco Field, home to the Seattle Mariners, giving people the option to ask for scores or order food.
Bots can increase productivity. They’ll also cost people their jobs.
Some 61% of workers say they’d feel more comfortable if their employer was more transparent about what the future may hold in terms of working with AI and potentially being “replaced by technology”, a 2018 study by the Workforce Institute and Kronos Incorporated showed.
The market size of virtual assistants is estimated to grow at an annual growth rate of 34.9% over the coming seven years, according to consulting firm Condeco. Most of the newcomers in the space will be smaller, private companies trying out new tech, and better security.
According to PwC, the global AI market was valued at $16.06 billion in 2017. Business intelligence firm MarketsandMarkets thinks it hits $190.6 billion by 2025.
“The bot codes for Futurology are based on my previous work with bots,” says Kochin over a late autumn dinner in Moscow. “We are reaching the next step in the evolution of how to use them.”