What Star Wars' C-3PO Can Teach Us About The Future Of AI

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“Star Wars: The Last Jedi” came in strong at the box office this holiday season, bringing around $1 billion worldwide to date since its mid-December release, along with an array of campaigns dedicated to celebrating the classic sci-fi series.

IBM Watson decided to get in on the fun too, with their “Science and Star Wars” series hosted on the official Star Wars YouTube channel. The series features nine different episodes (a nod to the nine main Star Wars films, perhaps?) that focus on different ways real-life technology collides with some of the iconic series' most beloved gadgets, heroes and themes. There's lightsabers, droids, a study on “The Force” and, what caught our eye — a closer look at C-3P0, artificial intelligence, and customer experience.

For those not familiar with C-3P0, he's what's called a “protocol droid," and companion to trusty sidekick R2-D2. Though articulate, C-3PO's robotic body limits his range of inflection and physical motion that are, as IBM Fellow Dr. John R. Smith says, important indicators when assessing natural of human interaction.

“An important part of our language is body movement, our language, but also our voice inflection – we call theses modalities,” Smith said as part of the episode. “We've been teaching computers to understand these multiple modalities so we can better interact with them.”

Natural language processing begins by identifying keywords within text or blocks of spoken word that signal emotion. The evolution of this, and where AI is headed, is to better understand how these emotional keywords are used in context of the text or dialogue they're extracted from.

This can be especially helpful when it comes to assessing customer experience. It's one thing to be able to identify customer emotion throughout their buyer journey. But to be able to sift through the context and pinpoint how and where that emotion is coming from could provide more actionable insights brands can use to improve communication with customers with compassion. 

It's the first step in using machine learning to better understand and quantify human emotion. But is there a possibility for a real C-3PO any time soon?

“Honestly, we're generations away from doing that,” IBM Fellow Grady Booch said. “But what we're doing today is taking artificial intelligence and helping it collaborate with humans, and more importantly, augment human intelligence.”

The “Science and Star Wars” series has racked up hundreds of thousands of views across its nine episodes since its initial rollout in Fall 2017. Click here to check out the full series

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