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Humley: Powering machine-to-human communication for big business

As the rise of artificial intelligence continues, we spoke with growing AI business Humley, which specialises in machine-to-human communication.
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Founded in 2014, a lot has changed for Humley, and the sector in which it can be found, since its launch. The concept of delivering machine-to-human communication may be more recognisable now, but it wasn’t in the beginning.

Humley is a spinout of mobile tech firm Infomedia, but while mobile may have been well and truly mainstream then, AI was not, recalled Angela Meadows, SVP of client development at Humley.

“Humley was early into the market and we were solving a problem businesses didn’t realise was a problem yet,” she told Real Business.

“This presented some challenges in how we could resonate in the space, however this is something which is definitely changing as the market becomes more mature, and our existing pipeline reflects this.”

The key changes she’s witnessed in the industry is less talk and more action when it comes to rolling out AI services, such as Humley’s own machine-to-human support.

“The number of companies interested in AI has certainly increased. We regularly attend industry events which two years ago had a handful of people coming along, and now the same events have thousands of attendees,” Meadows detailed.

“We’ve also seen different approaches to solving the same sort of problems. Some with more success than others. It feels like an exciting space that’s starting to mature in terms of actually delivering the right technology to real people and getting real results.”

She suggested AI has the potential to provide “magic and possibilities” that will “shift humans into another type of existence” – ones that were once “only possible in science fiction”.

Meadows is well aware that AI is very divisive though and compared it to Marmite. A perfect example would be Elon Musk taking on Mark Zuckerberg, with the former against AI and the latter for it.

Musk felt so strongly about the technology that he called out the Facebook boss to suggest Zuckerberg’s “understanding of the subject is limited”.

“Some envisage a utopian outcome, and some a dystopian one. Whatever the future holds, the possibilities have never been greater,” Meadows said.

“Humley is leading the charge in solving some inherent issues and challenges with deploying machine-to-human conversational technology.

“It produces natural and unscripted machine-to-human conversations, with the ability to switch between subject matters to help consumers and businesses alike. We’re taking AI and making it practical, deployable, manageable and most importantly, making it work in real life for a business.”

For businesses, Humley allows companies’ customers to use natural language in their own words, deciphering it and getting it to the right people accordingly.

“By using Humley’s technology, companies can better understand their customers and as a result, provide useful outcomes at the first time of asking, 85 per cent of the time, which is significantly higher than the industry average,” Meadows added.

The firm services banks on the high street, digital agencies, phone operators, mobile manufacturers and event organisers. That broad spread means the company isn’t restricted to one particular market and can use its machine-to-human communications tech for various purposes.

Humley tied up with The AI Summit in San Francisco in September, achieving global exposure in the process by developing an online assistant called iQ for the event, which will also be available in other summits worldwide, including Singapore, Zurich, New York and London.

“We are a startup and always looking at creative ways of generating marketing. That mantra, coupled with our ability to deliver AI, meant that we knew we had a mutually beneficial trade we could perform with the AI Summit team,” said Meadows.

“The AI assistant helps the organisers service their customers and gives them the ability to understand what their attendees really want from them and the event. It also provides the ability to improve registration rates around any event.”

She found there was one key theme at the event though, which was the fact there is no governance of AI systems currently, and trust can only be won with ethics and policy.

“Humley has taken a stance of maximising automation but crucially, with human supervision, which we feel is the appropriate position to be in in this emergent field,” Meadows said.

“We generate revenue by ensuring our technology approach is automated. Our mantra is ‘test, learn, automate’. It is this ability to automate, which ensures we can rapidly build and deploy solutions for businesses. A few examples of how we automate include Octavo and our management layer.

“Octavo automates the generation of training materials for the AI and understands the essence of language for a sector and/or brand, which means we can work with any business on a broad set of data.

“Our management layer enables subject matter experts in the business to have access to the AI training data and this means they can impact the way the AI responds to real users.”

Meadows believes that all British businesses should take note of the rise of AI, claiming they can all benefit from process and efficiency improvements.

She explained: “A common example is customer service, but imagine starting in a new business and simply being able to ask ‘who looks after what I’m allowed to say about the company’ and being able to get the ‘corporate responsibility team’ and be offered to be connected with the right person in that department.”

Looking ahead, Humley will continue its automation attack with machine-to-human communication and intends to scale with more partnerships alongside system operators and agencies.

“In 2018, we’ll be focussing on delivering on our current pipeline while managing further investment into the business and accelerating Humley to the next level of development,” she concluded.

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Zen Terrelonge

Zen Terrelonge is the deputy editor of Real Business, specialising in media, innovation, technology and the digital sector. A media professional with eight years worth of experience he has worked for both startup and established publications.

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