The Martinbot: Concierges, Personalities in Code and AI.

Sometimes products and services need a little help to work: before automated features are rolled out it’s sometimes necessary to get a person to do what software will do in the future. In short we need a “concierge” to manually provide the missing parts like answer emails and set up user accounts, or deal with changes; for the first few months of The Data Place we’ve had Martin take care of most of this work.

The early-stage activities of a concierge provide vital research resources: ongoing human interaction uncovers all sort of issues and opportunities. And in starting to automate the things that real Martin has been doing it becomes clear that such a crucial role should ideally live on in code.

What started as a flippant suggestion—calling the software that replaces Martin’s concierging the “Martinbot”—has actually given us pause for thought. In the first instance we’ve been trying to download his acquired knowledge to build out journeys, features and functionality, but there’s more to it. We can (and largely will) break down all those interactions and insights and distribute their automation amongst the code. But there’s a lot to be gained from keeping the Martinbot as a persistent entity.

When your product or service is provided digitally there’s something to be gained from maintaining personalities in the parts. For now the Martinbot provides a useful reminder of some vital customer interactions. It also reminds us who took care of those interactions in the early days and puts a face on that aspect of the product (onboarding for example).

There’s much more though. As we start to think about how we design for artificial intelligence and machine learning it makes sense to allow the “personalities” we might code in the future to evolve from real people—from real people who understand how those personalities should take form. That initial knowledge dump from the role of concierge is the beginning of something in tune with the needs of users and customers; the bare bones of a machine understanding.

So, for now, Lucy has provided a quick illustration of the Martinbot. And he even has his own Slack Channel. But that’s just the beginning…

The Data Place is a social enterprise dedicated to providing low-cost, accessible data infrastructure to support access to critical data for communities, facilitate innovation and smart city initiatives, foster a collaborative ecosystem, and allow public and civic organisations to better serve their stakeholders. You can find out more about us here: http://www.thedata.place.