A Personal Assistant Technologies or PAT Hackathon

When tech media started proclaiming 2016 as the year of the bots, they seem to have nailed it. At Oracle we have at least three groups working on bots, OAUX included.

One of the latest forays into bots was a Personal Assistant Technologies (PAT) hackathon, organized by Laurie Pattison’s (@lsptahoe) Apps UX Innovation Events team, open to people across Oracle. The goal? Create a great use case for bots with a great user experience.

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Because I’ve done a fair amount of research on bots recently, I was selected as a mentor, though the MVM (most valuable mentor) prizes definitely went to Anthony Lai (@anthonyslai) and Noel Portugal (@noelportugal), who provided all the technical assistance for the teams.

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The most interesting part of a hackathon is, of course, at the end. Each team has three short minutes to show what they built and why it’s awesome. There were a lot of teams, covering use cases from sales, service, supply chain, finance, developer tools, and project management. It was a pleasure just to see all the creativity across groups that came from distant parts of Oracle—including a few who traveled all the way from India and Armenia just to participate.

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The teams had to use an NLP system and a bot framework to interact with Oracle systems to actually do something—some were more transactional, others more about querying information. The most important thing (to me, at least) about a bot use case is that it needs to be better than the existing way you’d do something. Why would a user want to use a bot—something new they have to learn, even if it is easy—instead of doing it the old fashioned way?

A big part of the potential value of bots is that it’s easy to use them from a variety of devices—if all you need to do is type or speak, you can easily use a mobile device to send a text message, Amazon Echo, your IM on your desktop, or maybe even a smartwatch. The teams used a variety of input methods, pointing out the real value someone can unlock with the ability to be productive while on the go or in contexts we don’t normally associate with work.

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Also represented in the mentor and judge crowd were Oracle Virtual Assistant (part of the RightNow team), and the Chatbot Cloud Service, which Larry Ellison introduced at OpenWorld this year. Some teams leveraged the Oracle Virtual Assistant for their submissions, but it wasn’t required.

It’s an exciting time, now that natural language technology is finally enabling some wonderful user experiences. I, for one, am looking forward to seeing all the upcoming cycles of design-build-test-repeat in the quest for a useful and productive bot experience.

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