[FIELD NOTES] MN Bot Makers September Meetup

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The MN Bot Makers Meetup returned from its summer hiatus, using a new format for its meeting that hasn’t been done before. Straying from the traditional method of presenting on a particular topic, developers opted for a curated discussion on recent trends led by organizer Eli Krumholz.

Beginning with a look at the four big players–Alexa, Siri, Google Assistant, and Cortana–it was evident they feel Amazon is leading the pack. With devices like the Echo Auto and the Echo Look on the horizon, it looks like Amazon is eyeing more than just voice-activated home assistants. It was noted by more skeptical developers, however, that the Echo Look may take advantage of human insecurity by suggesting beauty products and clothes when users first wake up.

The conversation turned to smart appliances and the seeming inevitability of devices like refrigerators and toasters having personalities. The concept is not too far away, however. Smart plugs can already control a variety of functions on other devices including toggling power, volume and brightness.

The topic of bot deployment in chat environments continues to dominate MN Bot Makers Meetups, however. Platforms including Facebook, Slack and Discord continue to find uses for bots including customer service, sales, marketing and project management. Though, due to recent changes in data privacy legislation, bot approval in Facebook has dramatically slowed, much to the frustration of many small development teams.

The evening wrapped with a discussion of what meetup topics would interest participants, but not before Krumholz shared a fascinating use of bots in the workplace. These particular robots were designed to perform repetitive tasks in a shared workspace, often in close proximity to humans. They contain displays where their faces would go, displaying smiles throughout their work unless a nearby human acts in an unsafe manner. In this case, their face turns to one of worry or concern, applying the same social pressure humans extend to one another when behavior needs to change.

The MN Bot Makers Meetup takes place at Silicon Prairie Holdings, Inc. in St. Paul on the fourth Tuesday of every month.

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