Even though the market for chatbots is still young, Europe seems to be already lagging behind. Ethical questions, data privacy, the fear of failure, and market uncertainty are only a few issues Europeans have.
While the whole world is discussing the commercialization of artificial intelligence (A.I.) and chatbots and how the market is going to grow exponentially, Europe is once again taking the seat of the quiet, conservative observer for several reasons.
1. Europe is afraid that A.I. will take over jobs, creating unemployment
One of the greatest concerns involves the fear of A.I. contesting with humans for their employment. Dr. Stuart Armstrong, an expert in the field of A.I. and an Oxford researcher, pointed out that these concerns are still highly hypothetical as we are still far away from the point where robots and A.I. will become smart enough to fully replace humans. Furthermore, research in 2011 by the International Federation of Robotics found that one million industrial robots powered by A.I. actually created nearly three million jobs for humans.
Even though the computational and technical advancements are hardly far enough to make these fears reasonable, the mainstream media quickly exaggerates fictional doomsday scenarios of A.I. and robots taking over the world, scaring their audience and readers.
Contrary to the Europeans, the U.S. tech community takes a very different stance. The common belief in America is that in the future, A.I. will help humans to deal with simple, repetitive tasks and thus help humans channel their energy to core businesses and creative tasks. By working closely together with one of the largest telecommunication providers worldwide in the field of customer support, I can only confirm this statement. The chatbot we are implementing does not replace the agents but enables them to focus on more complex problems rather than having to deal with easy and recurring questions and support tickets.
2. A different mindset of data privacy and cyber security in Europe
Another difference between the European and the U.S. market is a perception about data privacy. While Americans seem to be less concerned with giving banking data and the like to third parties, Europeans still feel uncomfortable sharing any private data. When Facebook made its jump to Europe, one was regularly exhorted to not share private photos on Facebook or put anything out there that could possible give any clues on personal habits, displeasing their future employers.
This belief seems to be so deeply anchored in their minds that it still makes Europeans think twice before sharing anything online. In my past projects with some of the largest companies in Europe, one of the first question posed was about data privacy. No matter which industry, no matter what kind of chatbot, data privacy is one of the first issues addressed when speaking about A.I. and chatbots on those projects.
3. Failures of A.I. are more prominent than the success stories
Furthermore, the media in Europe is not getting tired of reminding the readers of how Microsoft’s experiment with the Tay chatbot went terribly wrong. Rather than acknowledging the technical limits and emphasizing the many benefits of chatbots for businesses — such as reducing costs, time, and complexity through automated conversations with customers — Europeans are more often confronted with all of the failures that the chatbots and A.I. industry has experienced. That can include Tay, Tesla’s self-driving car accidents, or how impersonal some chatbots currently are.
Other challenges for Europe’s startups
All in all, the aforementioned fears and doubts about A.I. boil down to great market uncertainties that heavily influence the startup scene in Europe.
The success of startups trying to commercialize new technologies is dependent on several factors that Europe does not seem to offer. On the one hand, European startups need first-movers and innovative businesses for experimentation purposes and for building prototypes, since a common pitfall of large companies is late adoption of new technologies. On the other hand, such startups also need positive media coverage to provide traction for the second wave of innovators and potential adopters. But arguably most importantly, these startups are crucially dependent on financial backing from investors to bring their startup to the next level. If they do not receive their resources quickly enough, they are very likely to move their business to the U.S.
When taking part in a recent panel discussion about A.I. in Cologne, Christoph Auer-Welsbach of IBM’s Watson Partner Innovation program for Europe, supported this statement, saying that it is essential for European investors to fund those startups early in order to avoid them emigrating into the U.S. market. According to him, this would be a shame, since Europe houses some of the strongest and most talented machine learning developers in the world.
With all these challenges, only the smartest and most innovative companies have taken the leap and started implementing chatbots into their business. These companies say that even though the technology is new and it is difficult to predict the market, the trend of automation is inevitable and essential for a positive development of their future business.