Tom Howard has always been a fan of a good scene. Growing up he was part of the punk and skater crowd in Washington D.C., and today he’s still in search for what’s hot.
He’s part of a community of software developers and entrepreneurs who move from tech hub to tech hub, known to some as digital nomads. He’d spent time in San Francisco and Berlin, before arriving in Vietnam three years ago — after reading a news article. “It talked about the growing tech scene there, the great lifestyle, the food, the great culture of the people, and I decided to go visit and instantly fell in love with it,” Howard told VentureBeat.
After getting settled in Saigon, he began to get questions from friends and fellow nomads interested in Vietnam, so he created the Saiborg bot.
Saiborg helps people through the three stages of a Saigon n00b: planning, arrival, and getting settled. It answers questions from users about essentials like how to get a visa, how to find an apartment, where to rent a motor bike, and where to find good Mexican food.
However, like so many conversational interfaces, Saiborg doesn’t always understand what you’re saying. It’s best to limit chat with Saiborg to very simple, often one-word answers: “food” for food, “work spots” for coworking spaces. Questions in the form of a sentence can return unsolicited dating advice.
In the future, Howard plans to add features that can detect location and ping a user when they’re near a place they should visit, and to greet them when they arrive at the Tan Son Nhat Airport in Saigon.
While Saiborg is just one of many new travel bots — Expedia joined the pack a few weeks ago — one thing Howard thinks his bot got right is its singular purpose. He believes bots and A.I. are at their best when they do one thing very well.
“The main issue with all of the travel bots is they’re all too broad. Right now I think everyone building bots is taking aggregators and putting generic information out there, but people want curation,” he said.