April 23, 2024

Siri on steroids

Truly meaningful business travel AI products are coming even faster than expected, says TripStax CTO Scott Wylie

Recently I had a meeting in London, I didn’t get the memo telling me which hotel we were staying at, so I booked a different one from everyone else.

While it was purely accidental (whose time wouldn’t be enhanced by my playful repartee and smouldering good looks?), how could this have been avoided? Artificial intelligence could provide the answer.

Back in January I wrote: “I reckon it will be 2025 before we see truly meaningful business travel AI products – although this technology is evolving so rapidly it could be earlier.”

I’m glad I added those last words because change is coming even faster than I anticipated.

The futurist Ray Kurzwell has written: “We won’t experience one hundred years of technological advance in the twenty-first century; we will witness in the order of twenty thousand years of progress (when measured by today’s rate of progress), or about one thousand times greater than what was achieved in the twentieth century.'”

We are witnessing one of those accelerations. A year ago everyone was going mad about ChatGPT, using AI to deliver automatically curated information like we have never seen before. Now we are on to the next step: turning words into action, where AI cannot just tell, but do. This latest wave of AI, based on what is called a Large Action Model, can potentially give us true virtual assistants. Think of something like Siri or Alexa – but on steroids – that looks after your travellers through the entire trip cycle.

Consider me, Billy No Mates, sitting on my tod in my London hotel. With the kind of virtual travel assistant now being worked on, when the meeting invitation was sent, the assistant would have automatically booked the hotel for all of us as soon as we accepted.

Using information in our profiles such as our home addresses, the assistant would also have figured out the best way for each of us to get to the hotel and booked our journey too. For those coming by train it would also have known whether we prefer to sit facing forwards or backwards and whether we’re entitled to travel in first class. And all this would take place in tools such as Outlook or Slack.

Let’s say I was heading to that meeting directly from an already booked business trip in Frankfurt. The virtual assistant would have known that from looking at my calendar and rearranged my original travel plans, including booking a flight on my preferred airline.

Everything I have described here is possible in theory but there are a lot of different data sources, permissions and so on which need to be brought together before it becomes reality – being able to book hotels outside the GDS is just one example. And the entire process will need to be very robust before travellers can be confident AI is making the right decisions on their behalf.

Scott Wylie is Chief Technology Officer for TripStax