Although we’d like to believe that, in 2016, we can leave it all up to the bots, we’re still not quite there yet. Sure, with assistants like Siri and Cortana getting smarter with each new release, and breakthroughs coming from places like Slack and Facebook, there are still a lot of individual cases that can’t be perfectly automated.
Travel is one of them. The nuances of flying and booking hotels should have enough data to be automatic, yet bots can’t directly interpret the nuances — say, connection times in large airports or finding hotels with specific criteria. This problem is compounded when travel must be booked for more than one person, across more than one city, or involving travel or accommodations.
That’s what makes Hyper, available for iOS, so interesting. Presented as a text-based smart assistant designed to tackle corporate booking and travel, the AI involved is just the tip of the iceberg. Hyper is actually a full-fledged travel agency that uses human operators to train the bot on specific decision-making, and step in when needed to help with any last-minute disasters.
“If you were to do a full set of bookings for your itinerary, you have to hop around destinations online, and if you care about pricing, you’ll be going to even more websites,” Minqi Jiang, cofounder at Hyper told TNW. “Instead, Hyper lets you send a single a message, and it boils down the complexity into one request.”
The key to Hyper is curation. Rather than looking through vast lists of data, users are presented with limited options based on their criteria, as well as recommendations from the bot’s training and travel operators. Using natural language, the bot can create complex itineraries and also do things on the fly like rescheduling entire trips, depending on how much you pay for the service. The human on the backend then approves those lists, and also adds options to help provide ideal itineraries.
“There’s a very subtle but very real experience people want to have, which is they want to feel empathy,” Peter Zakin, co-founder of Hyper, explained. “A bot doesn’t care if you’re late for a flight and you miss a celebration with your significant other. But a human does.”
While Hyper can be used individually (and for free), it’s designed to shine on the corporate and enterprise level. Currently, the $20 pro tier allows users to access Hyper’s 24/7 capabilities, designed specifically to work with heavy business travelers who may need to access their itineraries in tough time zones. There’s also a business tier, at $25 per user per month, that includes all of that plus advanced reporting and expense integration.
“Having all of that stuff spelled out in front of you in a text message thread, it’s a much better experience,” Jiang said. “If I’m a consultant and I make $200 an hour, and I have to schedule flights and hotels over the phone, that’s a huge opportunity cost. If I do it over text, I can send a text, work with clients, and then confirm with a single tap.”
Although the main focus is growth, Zakin said that Hyper will also be working hard to make the human/AI interactions even more sophisticated, to provide for better customer service in the longterm. The team is also considering integrations with other apps, so don’t discount plug-ins or desktop tools.
“For big ones like Slack, that’s definitely on our target horizon,” Zakin added.
Hyper is available today, for free, in the iOS app store.