October 14, 2022
This week at Google Cloud Next, the company made an announcement that I think will cause market confusion.
Google is coining a new term, AI Agents, to refer to a category of applications and services that lets customers “apply the best of AI to common business challenges with limited technical expertise required by employees, and include Google Cloud products.” The company’s blog post, New AI Agents can drive business results faster: Translation Hub, Document AI, and Contact Center AI, lays out its thinking on the issue.
Today, many would interpret the term ‘AI Agent’ to mean a chatbot or virtual assistant, or something else:
In the industry nomenclature for the contact center/customer service market, which Google is serving with Contact Center AI, ‘AI Agent’ might even be confused or associated with another term, 'virtual assistant,' which Ring Central defines as “a remote employee that handles tasks assigned by their employer.”
Google Cloud has one of the premier chatbot platforms on the planet in Dialogflow, where Google Cloud customers build state-of-the-art ‘virtual agents.’
In a web search for ‘AI Agent,’ one of the first results links to Sprinklr’s AI Agent Assist product where “every conversation your agents handle can be powered by the most advanced AI engine in the industry – instantly analyzing case context to surface the suggestions, predictions and warnings they’ll need to excel.”
Vijay Sairam Pratap, Google Cloud’s head of product and solutions marketing − Cloud AI, told Omdia that the intent of creating the category and its name is to help educate a vast new set of potential non-technical AI users.
Pratap said Google sees the commercial use of AI at a tipping point – the technology is substantially more accurate than five years ago, options are getting cheaper and, most importantly, as more no code/low code AI solutions become available, AI-fueled solutions will be in the hands of a significantly larger number of users.
“The term agent invokes the idea of a force that helps you get something done,” said Pratap. “The Google Cloud products that will fall under this category address business issues for non-technical users, but they are powered by AI. We think these users need to know they are using AI and that AI is helping them get something done.”
A rare misstep?
Fair enough, Google Cloud has every right to educate their customers and the market as they see fit. However, markets and populations tend to dictate what specific terms mean. The majority wins regardless of how influential a single player might be to say otherwise (consider mobile, cellular, etc.).
In the best-case scenario, Google Cloud is going to have a difficult time explaining the AI Agent product category. In the worst-case scenario, they are going to cause further confusion as to what exactly are AI agents, virtual assistants, chatbots, etc.
Google’s AI-powered products have perfectly good names – names that describe what they do to all audiences, particularly those who are buying them. They are powerful and intriguing products that earned Google Cloud the #5 ranking in Omdia’s elite list of the World’s Most AI-forward SaaS companies. They are being very wise to retain those names.
Nonetheless, it might make more sense to drop the idea of naming the new product category AI Agents.