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The last few decades have been marked by waves of technology-driven innovation in business communication, starting with digital’s disruption of print communication, then social media giving a voice to everyone in the marketplace, followed by the way mobile is freeing communicators from their desks.

We’re well into the next wave, and this one could be the most intriguing and far-reaching of all: the application of artificial intelligence to enhance the communication experience. Starting with the upcoming 13th Edition of Excellence in Business Communication (releasing in January 2019) we are covering communication uses of AI that students are likely to encounter on the job or in their job-search efforts.

The Recent Explosion of Business AI

Although “artificial intelligence” still has a science fiction ring to it, forms of AI are now used extensively in business and business communication. It’s a virtual guarantee that your students are already experiencing AI as consumers—Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Netflix, and Spotify are just a few of the companies that rely on AI to deliver their services.

Research in AI has been going on for more than a half century, but the practical outcomes never really lived up to hopes until recently, when several developments converged within the space of a few years. First, the primary focus of the research shifted from pursuing the generalized, humanlike intelligence of science fiction (sometimes called general AI or strong AI) to developing specialized systems aimed at handling specific tasks such as reading text or recognizing images (called narrow AI or weak AI). Second, an AI method involving neural networks, which emulate the function of neurons in the brain, was refined in a way that made it much more powerful. And third, several critical computer capabilities became available around the same time: massive sets of data that AI systems could learn from, low-cost storage to handle all that data, and fast processors capable of handling the number-crunching that the most-common AI approaches require.

Communication Applications of AI

Thanks to these developments, AI is now being applied in virtually every functional area of business. Many of these applications involve business communication, including augmented writing, automated writing, emotion recognition, job applicant evaluation systems, chatbots and taskbots, robotic process automation, cognitive automation, voice recognition, real-time voice translation, and augmented ability systems. Here are a few specific examples:

  • Businesses use text mining for social listening—identifying themes (such as prevailing customer sentiment or threats to a company’s reputation) hidden in mountains of written information, from Twitter and Facebook posts to customer emails and surveys. The Clarabridge image shown above (click on the thumbnail for a larger version) illustrates the use of social listening in the hospitality industry.
  • The Textio augmented-writing system gives company recruiters real-time writing feedback while they draft job postings. By analyzing hundreds of millions of postings and comparing the candidate pools they attracted, the system is figuring out the most compelling way to describe job opportunities. Plus, the system can help writers avoid biased or exclusionary language by showing how various demographic groups respond to different word choices.
  • Any of your students who play fantasy football on Yahoo! Sports might be intrigued to know that the game summaries they receive each week are written by an AI system.

From a user’s perspective, AI-enhanced communication isn’t skills-based to the same degree as social media and mobile communication, but we believe it has become a vital topic to address in any well-rounded business communication course. In future posts, we’ll explore many of these applications and discuss how they are giving professionals powerful new tools to improve communication efficiency and effectiveness.

 

Adapted from Excellence in Business Communication, 13th Edition, Pearson, 2020.

Image: Courtesy Clarabridge


BT VideosHere is the sixth video in our new series that addresses a variety of specific communication challenges and offers practical advice that students can apply now in their coursework and take with them on the job.

This video gives students a four-step decision model to guide them in making ethical communication choices.

Instructor version (concludes with information about the Bovée & Thill business communication series, including links to order examination copies)

Student version (identical to the instructor version, except for the textbook information)


BT VideosHere is the fifth video in our new series that addresses a variety of specific communication challenges and offers practical advice that students can apply now in their coursework and take with them on the job.

This video helps students adapt their behavior to the five zones of professional etiquette: in the workplace, online, on the phone, in social settings, and while using mobile devices.

Instructor version (concludes with information about the Bovée & Thill business communication series, including links to order examination copies)

Student version (identical to the instructor version, except for the textbook information)


This is the sixth post in a series about technologies that are shaping the future of communication. We’ve been following technologies that cover an interesting array of possibilities, from enhancing existing communication modes to replacing at least one of the humans in a conversation to assisting people who have a variety of motor, vision, and cognitive impairments. They are all across the adoption curve, from technologies that are already approaching mainstream usage (such as bots and gamification) to a few that are closer to the sci-fi end of things (such as holograms and telepathic communication). Many of these systems rely on artificial intelligence, which is reshaping business communication in some profound ways. All of them present interesting discussion topics for business communication, because they get to the heart of matter, which is trying to exchange information and meaning in the most effective and efficient ways possible. To offer students a peek into the future, we've started covering these innovations in our business communication texts, beginning with the 14th Edition of Business Communication Today (published January 2017) and the 8th Edition of Business Communication Essentials (published January 2018).

 

As the most intimate form of communication, touch can convey shades of emotion and meaning in ways that other forms can’t match. Think of the range of messages you can send by the way you greet someone, for example. A firm handshake, a light kiss on the cheek, an awkward embrace, and a fist bump all send different nonverbal signals.

Touch is a vital aspect of human-to-human and human-to-machine interaction, but it is missing from most forms of digital communication. You can’t give someone a hearty handshake over email or feel the vibration patterns of a machine while viewing it over a video link.

However, the field of haptic technology is enabling touch and tactile sensations in a growing number of ways. Mobile devices and wearables such as smartwatches are incorporating haptic input and output in ways that simulate the nuances of human touch or offer sensory substitution—using haptic feedback to translate visual or auditory information into vibration and pressure. When combined with virtual reality, haptics can create simulations so realistic they are being used to train surgeons and nuclear power plant technicians.

Beyond training, the technology has exciting potential in such diverse areas as retailing, maintenance and repair in dangerous environments, and assistive technologies. Imagine being able to feel the texture of fabric from halfway around the world or letting an expert’s hands remotely guide yours as you learn a new procedure. The ability to manipulate objects and machines through simulated touch, rather than abstracted devices such as joysticks, offers more subtle control and feedback. Haptic navigation systems can provide directions via vibration actuators in shoes or other wearable devices. Biometric yoga pants guide users into proper form and motion, and with haptic metronomes, musicians can literally feel the beat, without the potentially disruptive sound of a conventional metronome.

As sensors and actuators get smaller, cheaper, and more flexible, we’re likely to see haptics integrated into an even wider array of products and systems.

Class activity idea: Have students research the current state of haptic technology to identify one way in which the technology has the potential to change business communication practices, such as replacing detailed verbal descriptions of products with touch-enabled virtual interaction. Do they agree with the predictions the experts make? Why or why not?

 

Sources: Gregory Mone, “Feeling Sounds, Hearing Sights,” Communications of the ACM, January 2018, 15–17; Wearable X website, accessed 31 January 2018, www.wearablex.com; Andrew Wade, “Revolution in Touch,” The Engineer, September 2017, 22–24; Roland Moore-Colyer, “Good Vibrations: What’s Next for Haptics in Wearable Tech?” Wareable, 22 August 2016, www.wareable.com.

Image: Photo on Visual Hunt

 


This is the fifth post in a series about technologies that are shaping the future of communication. We’ve been following technologies that cover an interesting array of possibilities, from enhancing existing communication modes to replacing at least one of the humans in a conversation to assisting people who have a variety of motor, vision, and cognitive impairments. They are all across the adoption curve, from technologies that are already approaching mainstream usage (such as bots and gamification) to a few that are closer to the sci-fi end of things (such as holograms and telepathic communication). Many of these systems rely on artificial intelligence, which is reshaping business communication in some profound ways. All of them present interesting discussion topics for business communication, because they get to the heart of matter, which is trying to exchange information and meaning in the most effective and efficient ways possible. To offer students a peek into the future, we've started covering these innovations in our business communication texts, beginning with the 14th Edition of Business Communication Today (published January 2017) and the 8th Edition of Business Communication Essentials (published January 2018).

 

The Internet of Things (IoT) refers to the several billion devices now connected to the Internet and the networking potential of having all these gadgets communicate with each other, feed data into powerful analysis and control algorithms, and interact with people and the physical environment. These “things” range from simple sensors that measure temperature, location, and other parameters all the way up to robots and other complex systems. People and animals with Internet-capable sensors (such as implanted chips) or devices also qualify as things in this model.

Imagine you walk into a department store and your mobile phone automatically gives you directions to the aisle where you could find the clothing styles you have recently been browsing online or discussing in social media. When you reach that aisle, a coupon pops up on your phone with a discount on the specific items you’re considering. When you pull a garment off the rack, the store’s customer database checks other purchases you’ve made and suggests which items you already own that coordinate with this piece. If you could use an accessory to complete the outfit, the store’s computers can tell your phone just where to take you. And if you need more advice, you can text or talk—and possibly not know whether you’re conversing with a store employee or an automated chat algorithm.

Now imagine this simple concept expanded and applied in various ways to industrial facilities, agriculture, transportation, buildings, health care, and other systems. By relying on networked IoT devices for such communication functions as observing, measuring, and reporting, these enhanced systems can supplement or replace communication flows that were previously carried out by human participants. IoT raises some serious concerns about security and privacy, but it’s already a multitrillion-dollar industry that doesn't show any signs of slowing down.

IoT's impact on business communication will be fascinating to watch over the next few years, particularly as the technology gets linked with automated writing and other AI tools. Ideally, it will take over some routine communication tasks and give businesspeople more time for higher-level communication and strategizing.

Class activity idea: Have students research the current state of IoT innovation to identify one way in which the technology has the potential to change business communication practices, such as automated data collection and status reporting. Do they agree with the predictions the experts make? Why or why not?

 

Sources: Steve Ranger, “What Is the IoT? Everything You Need to Know About the Internet of Things Right Now,” ZDNet, 19 January 2018, www.xdnet.com; Bernard Marr, “The Internet of Things (IOT) Will Be Massive In 2018: Here Are the 4 Predictions From IBM,” Forbes, 4 January 2018, www.forbes.com.

Image: laboratoriolinux on VisualHunt.comCC BY-NC-SA

 


BT VideosHere is the fourth video in our new series that addresses a variety of specific communication challenges and offers practical advice that students can apply now in their coursework and take with them on the job.

This video helps students understand how to find the optimum balance of emotional and logical appeals when crafting persuasive messages. Few message appeals are entirely emotional or entirely logical, so knowing enough about the audience to mix the right blend of appeals is essential to creating effective persuasive messages for both internal and external audiences.

Instructor version (concludes with information about the Bovée & Thill business communication series, including links to order examination copies)

Student version (identical to the instructor version, except for the textbook information)


BT VideosHere is the third video in our new series that addresses a variety of specific communication challenges and offers practical advice that students can apply now in their coursework and take with them on the job.

This video helps students understand the nuances of visual ethics and gives them a framework for making ethical choices when they create visuals for reports, presentations, and other communication projects.

Instructor version (concludes with information about the Bovée & Thill business communication series, including links to order examination copies)

Student version (identical to the instructor version, except for the textbook information)

 

 


TextioThis is the fourth post in a series about technologies that are shaping the future of communication. We’ve been following technologies that cover an interesting array of possibilities, from enhancing existing communication modes to replacing at least one of the humans in a conversation to assisting people who have a variety of motor, vision, and cognitive impairments. They are all across the adoption curve, from technologies that are already approaching mainstream usage (such as bots and gamification) to a few that are closer to the sci-fi end of things (such as holograms and telepathic communication). Many of these systems rely on artificial intelligence, which is reshaping business communication in some profound ways. All of them present interesting discussion topics for business communication, because they get to the heart of matter, which is trying to exchange information and meaning in the most effective and efficient ways possible. To offer students a peek into the future, we've started covering these innovations in our business communication texts, beginning with the 14th Edition of Business Communication Today, which launched in January 2017, and 8th Edition of Business Communication Essentials, which launches in January 2018.

 

What’s the best way to say this?

That’s a never-ending question for the typical business communicator. For just about anything beyond the simplest messages, we can never be entirely sure that we’ve found the most powerful words or crafted the most effective phrases. We have to send our missives out into the ether and hope we’ve done our best.

Moreover, in many cases, we get only one chance to hit the mark. In contrast to interactive conversations (in person or online), where we get instant feedback and can adjust the message if needed, a lot of business writing is a one-shot affair and we’ll never know if we’ve been as effective as we could be.

Digital tools have been assisting writers for decades, as far back as spell checkers that predate the PC era, but most haven’t done much beyond applying simple rules. However, recent advances in natural language processing show some potential to fill this feedback void by providing instantaneous advice about the effectiveness of our language.

For example, Textio’s augmented writing platform suggests words and phrases that it has determined to be more effective in a particular context. It does this by measuring the success of similar writing efforts and analyzing language choices that proved to be more or less effective.

Textio’s initial focus has been on helping companies write job postings that can attract more of the most desirable candidates. By analyzing hundreds of millions of postings and comparing the candidate pools that they attracted, the system is able to figure out the most compelling way to describe a variety of job opportunities.

Organizations ranging from Twitter to Apple to the National Basketball Association are now using the system to improve their job postings. HR departments enter their job descriptions into Textio’s predictive engine, which analyzes the text and suggests specific wording changes to attract target candidates. It also provides overall assessment points when it analyzes a posting, such as “Uses corporate clichés,” “Sentences are too short,” and “Contains too many questions,” all based on how other job descriptions have performed.

Textio’s clients are reporting success in terms of the number and quality of candidates they attract and how much faster they are able to fill job openings as a result. Plus, the system can help writers avoid biased or exclusionary language by showing how various demographic groups respond to different word choices.

Of course, a system like this relies on a large set of similar messages and the ability to measure the success of those messages, so it’s not a general-purpose solution that one can apply to every kind of business writing. But Textio and its clients are already trying the tool on sales emails and other types of recurring messages, so its use could expand.

You can take a look at the feedback Textio provides here.

As we develop our upcoming editions, we’re studying augmented writing and a variety of other AI-driven innovations, and we look forward to sharing more of these fascinating developments.

 

Sources: Textio website; “How Textio Is Changing Writing as We Know It,” Scale Venture Partners, www.scalevp.com; Rachel Lerman, “Investors Pump $20M into Seattle Startup Textio, Which Helps Job Recruiters Find the Right Words,” Seattle Times, 25 June 2017.

Image: Textio website


BT VideosHere is the second video in our new series that addresses a variety of specific communication challenges and offers practical advice that students can apply now in their coursework and take with them on the job.

This video helps students tackle three challenges that all students and all business professionals face:

  • Making every message and document more effective.
  • Writing routine messages as quickly as possible to avoid getting swamped by the demands of everyday communication. 
  • Tackling big projects such as major reports and formal presentations without getting overwhelmed by the size of the task. 

The video presents a single solution to all three challenges: the three-step writing process that we use throughout our business communication texts.

Instructor version (concludes with information about the Bovée & Thill business communication series, including links to order examination copies)

Student version (identical to the instructor version, except for the textbook information)


smiles-conversely-chatThis is the third post in a series about technologies that are shaping the future of communication. We’ve been following technologies that cover an interesting array of possibilities, from enhancing existing communication modes to replacing at least one of the humans in a conversation to assisting people who have a variety of motor, vision, and cognitive impairments. They are all across the adoption curve, from technologies that are already approaching mainstream usage (such as bots and gamification) to a few that are closer to the sci-fi end of things (such as holograms and telepathic communication). Many of these systems rely on artificial intelligence, which is reshaping business communication in some profound ways. All of them present interesting discussion topics for business communication because they get to the heart of matter, which is trying to exchange information and meaning in the most effective and efficient ways possible. To offer students a peek into the future, we've started covering these innovations in our business communication texts, beginning with the 14th Edition of Business Communication Today, which launched in January 2017, and 8th Edition of Business Communication Essentials, which launches in January 2018.

Trying to converse in a language in which you are not fully fluent presents a rather staggering cognitive workload. As a listener, you have to convert the incoming sounds to discrete words and assemble those words into coherent phrases and sentences in order to extract the meaning—and if the other party uses idioms or slang, the task can get exponentially harder. And unlike reading a written document, you have to do all this processing almost instantaneously, without the luxury of going back over something you didn't get. As a speaker, you have to find the right words, assemble them into phrases and sentences using the language’s grammar rules, and then pronounce them all correctly enough so they make sense to the other party. Honing this level of proficiency can take years of study and practice.

Machine translation has been one of the long-standing goals of artificial intelligence, offering hope for real-time communication between people who don’t have a common language. Developers have made impressive strides toward translating speech in near real-time by combining deep learning techniques that apply computational models of human neural networks to massive data sets of languages with advances in natural language processing and natural language generation.

Systems such as Skype Translator and Google Translate are getting remarkably adept. Google’s new Pixel Buds ear buds offer nearly instantaneous translation across dozens of languages (when paired to a Google Pixel phone), making it possible to travel much of the world and converse with anyone who is similarly equipped. A variety of other smartphone and smartwatch apps offer translation without the need for each party to have identical equipment; speakers take turns talking to the device, then listen as it outputs the translated speech. Microsoft’s PowerPoint Presentation Translator adds real-time translation for presenters, making it easier for global professionals to connect with their audiences.

This video from the launch event for Google Pixel Buds shows the devices translating a conversation between English and Swedish. (The translation demonstration starts at 0:48.)

Class activity idea: Ask students to research several apps and other solutions that offer real-time translation. Are they being used successfully in business communication? Do students think these tools will ever eliminate the need to learn other languages in order to communicate effectively with diverse, global audiences?

 

Sources: Andrew Tarantola, “Google’s Pixel Buds Translation Will Change the World, Engadget, 4 October 2017, endgadget.com; “Skype Translator,” Skype, accessed 10 November 2017, www.skype.com; iTranslate Voice, accessed 10 February 2017, itranslatevoice.com; Davide Castelvecchi, “Deep Learning Boosts Google Translate Tool,” Nature, 27 September 2016, nature.com; Devindra Hardawar, “Microsoft PowerPoint Adds Real-Time Presentation Translation,” Engadget, 10 May 2017, endgadget.com.

Photo via Visualhunt