Multi-modal AI and the UX revolution in travel

For those of you who don’t follow, ChatGPT at the end of 2022 he gave us a computer that can understand and generate English. Not just English, but human language in general. On the face of it, that may seem like a small step. It is not.

Yes, you fight with up-to-date facts and data, but that part is solvent and often not as critical as you think.

If that wasn’t revolutionary enough for you, the next change is generative artificial intelligence (GenAI) that will go multimodal. ChatGPT started as text to text. Multi-modal is the other stuff:

  • Text-to-Audio. Generating speech from text. Companies like Elevenlabs, Google and Amazon can now create both pre-trained voices and custom cloned voices that are in many cases indistinguishable from the human voice. Everyone has access to these tools – it’s really easy.
  • Audio to text. Apple, Amazon and Google have been doing this for years. Good luck if you have an accent. Today, via GenAI is much improved – even with this emphasis. Otter.ai and OpenAI’s Whisper are two of my favorites. ChatGPT now has Audio-In > Audio-Out as an option to be able to pass text at all.
  • Text-to-Image. This area has been improving rapidly in the last year. OpenAI’s Dall-E was fun to play with a year ago. Today, the free Bing.com/create is really close to creating usable photo-realistic images. MidJourney is here too. SHOULD you be generating images for your travel marketing campaigns? I’m out of that argument.
  • Image-to-Text. This has only happened in the last two weeks as part of ChatGPT. Take a photo, upload a sketch, whatever you want, and ask the GenAI to describe, deduce, tell a story… whatever you want.
  • Text-to-Video and Video-to-Text. These are not really different from the technology for images, except that there is a lot more data (more compute, more $) to process. These aren’t ready for prime time, but they’re coming. It’s fun to play with. As the images were a year ago.

So if you take any of these ways in isolation – they are all significant. But when you connect them all together seamlessly, it starts to get really interesting.

Consider the new Ray-Ban Meta. They are basically a large multi-modal language model (LLM – think ChatGPT) that you wear on your face. You can do the basics like listening to music or taking photos and videos. But really, they are a frictionless way to connect what you see, hear and say to the most powerful computer (in a practical sense) in the world, an LLM.

When you take all the human senses, it is a fair argument that vision and hearing are the ways we consume the most data. Voice and text are the ways to communicate most data. These are all now working and connected.

Today, we already use many of these tools, but often do not work very cohesively. It’s still a bit patched together. This will change.

The end of the phone?

To be clear, I’m not actually saying it’s the end of the phone. However. We always need a place to look at cat pictures or play Candy Crush. But this user experience (UX), the screen we all look at for most of our workday for many tasks, will become obsolete. The screen connected to a keyboard seems very natural to us. But it was just the best way to interact with the technology we had at the time it was invented. The only practical way to communicate before GenAI was through words typed into a box or by clicking buttons and drop-down filters.

For many businesses, it is just not a very effective way of communication. It is a mistake to note that this was promised to us 10 years ago with the smart speaker, and therefore it was tried and condemned to fail forever. Smart speakers weren’t very smart back then. They didn’t have GenAI, and that makes it a completely different proposition. Today, it is really easy to search an entire database with a natural language search and return accurate results. A year ago, it was almost impossible.

So now, with my sunglasses on, I can look at Alcatraz from my hotel window, and just say “Hey Meta, what is this, and how do I visit?” Without ever looking at a screen, I can be given a set of options, prices and availability. And book only by voice.

Sunglasses? I’m not sure if this is the future. But again, save the Google Glass failure comments. It’s not much different than just pointing your phone at something. Perfection is important. A click, or two less actions like picking up your phone less and navigating to the correct app – these things make the difference.

Fifteen years ago, we heard stories of people in Asia booking hotels, or even flights, on a smartphone. None of this seemed plausible at the time. Surely this is a step too far? Never hit the west. These things take time. Humans are great at stalling progress in the short term. But eventually, better is just better, and humans find the easiest way to do a task with the tools they have access to.

For many legacy companies (my new definition is any company over two years old), they face an innovator’s dilemma. Their UX is coded into everything they do. It is not only the loyal customers who use their current UX, but also the company’s designers, data analysts, marketers, engineers and more whose roles derive from the current flow and the current UX. It’s pretty hard to get away from it.

This alone could open the door for some new players. There are a lot of startups coming after that market share. Most are travel planners. Most are hard to tell one from the other now. But one of them can create the next killer app and turn it all on the other. Exciting times ahead.

About the author…

Christian Watts is CEO of Magpie.

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