The Human Side Of AI
HWM Singapore|November 2019
Collected stories from the Expedia Group Research Summit
Zachary Chan

It’s hard to believe that any company involved in technology isn’t just run by robots and AI by now. It’s all we ever hear or read about anyway. So it was a very refreshing turn of events when I attended the inaugural Expedia Group Research Summit 2019. Far from just talk of big data and how some machine learning algorithm is just harvesting and churning out analytics, Expedia Group—which comprises travel brands such as Expedia, Trivago, Orbitz, Vrbo and Hotwire among others—employ human research teams that run human research and experiments. Sounds ominous, but it’s not.

One of the better-known examples is Expedia’s Innovation Lab where researchers, led by Senior Director of User Research, Tammy Snow, use real-time eye and emotion tracking technologies learn about how real people use their apps and websites. And that feedback helps them optimise the experience.

BUILDING BETTER AI THROUGH CUSTOMER RESEARCH

Take a Hotels.com booking as another example. Regular old machine learning algorithms might be able to learn your preferences over time and serve up images that feel more important to you, but with the addition of research data, they’ve been able to expand to providing hyper-local information that address specific customer pain points that machine learning alone wouldn’t have understood. Joss Crossick, then VP of Product Design said that their research showed it was important for Japanese travellers to know if the Japanese language was spoken at the front desk; in Germany, breakfast choices were important.

The idea shared here is that personalisation should not just be rule-based. You don’t tick a bunch of boxes and get a generic set of options every single time and then the experience ends there. People from different countries have different ideas and preconceptions about a location they’re visiting. People who book a second trip to the same location would be looking for different things to do, so they might tick the same boxes, but they don’t want to see the same results, and so on.

SOMETIMES, IT’S THE STORY THAT SELLS

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