A decade ago we held the first touchscreen mobile phones tentatively in our hands and now artificial intelligence allows us to talk to computers and for them to answer us. REA Group has launched Australia’s first property news report for Amazon Alexa and Kylie Dulhunty spoke to chief inventor Nigel Dalton about just how AI can, and could, help real estate agents and property consumers.
“Alexa, tell me the latest property news,” is set to become a staple statement in many real estate agencies and homes across the country.
“Just as 2007 became known as the year we all began to use a touchscreen, 2018 will be remembered as the year we started talking to computers.”
REA Group, the parent company of realestate.com.au, has launched realestate.com.au News, the first property news report for the world’s most popular artificially intelligent speakers.
It means real estate professionals, consumers and enthusiasts can now get a flash briefing of the latest property news headlines, simply by asking Alexa, the cloud-based, voice-driven virtual assistant from Amazon.
REA Group chief inventor Nigel Dalton said realestate.com.au News was gathered from more than 1200 articles published on realestate.com.au/news every month and leveraged a network of more than 45 journalists nationally.
“At the moment it’s the only ‘skill’ that provides exclusive property news for smart home devices in the country,” he said.
“Just as 2007 became known as the year we all began to use a touchscreen, 2018 will be remembered as the year we started talking to computers.
“Before 2007 and the iPhone we didn’t have touchscreens or interact with a device but now, 10 years later, we don’t know any different. If you see a child in a cafe with a piece of paper, often they are trying to tap or swipe on it. In 10 years time from now we will remember this as the moment the masses started talking to computers.”
The property headline briefing is the REA Group’s first foray into voice technology and artificial intelligence, but Mr Dalton assured us it won’t be the last.
He said while family and friends frequently ask “Nigel, what planet are you on?” he envisions a not too distant future where we can virtually hold a conversation with our AI devices.
“It’s still early days for having conversations with your technology, but we’re continuing to discover new ways to adapt and integrate that into our daily lives,” he said.
“We’ve started with voice-powered news content to see how consumers respond, and will be using these insights to create an even more immersive AI experience.”
Mr Dalton said the beauty of asking Alexa for the property news headlines was that in a time-driven, time-short world it allowed agents, buyers, sellers and real estate enthusiasts to multitask.
“Our approach to AI has been to determine a problem and how we can solve it,” he said.
“It’s not as simple as ‘we have amazing AI and let’s just do something cool with it’. We think there’s three things to solve and we want to give agents and consumers more of those. Those three things are time, trust and transparency.
“Is there anyone more time pressed than a real estate agent? They’re in the car, on the phone, sending an email, hosting an open, running an auction. This is where a tool like Alexa can give time back to agents. They can be listening to the property headlines while sending an email.”
Eventually, Mr Dalton said AI would develop to a point where it could provide a virtual personal assistant for real estate agents and buyers could ask for information on properties for sale in a particular suburb, price bracket or both, while renters could seek details on properties with good air conditioning.
“Today, home devices use a simple command system, but the technology of tomorrow will be smarter and more intelligent,” he said.
“Eventually voice is going to be integrated into every piece of technology hardware we own, and we’ll be continuing to add more artificial intelligence into our product experiences to help users through their property journey.
“One day, Alexa will be consulted as if she were just another family member at the dinner table – in the same way, forward-thinking companies are starting to add AI company directors. Chances are in five years’ time, she could be the smartest ‘person’ in the room.”
“This is where a tool like Alexa can give time back to agents.”
To make this happen Mr Dalton said the group had to continually improve the data it collected and how it was stored.
He said while renters may want to find a home with good air conditioning it was not currently a consistently stored feature in listings.
“We need to work to ensure we do a better job collecting and storing that data,” Mr Dalton said.
“AI has many uses and one day may even be able to evaluate the listing photographs we have to see if it recognises air conditioning in those.”
Other challenges to be ironed out include encouraging the real estate sector to adopt the technology, with Mr Dalton lamenting that consumers generally adopt the changes faster than agents.
He said REALabs had delved into the demography of Australia’s real estate agents and had discovered that while early adopters flocked to events such as AREC, they made up a small percentage of the industry.
“In the industry, there is a general lack of preparedness for technology,” Mr Dalton said.
“The latest Macquarie benchmark report showed 60 percent of agencies were planning to spend less than $40,000 on technology. That’s a very low number. I understand it’s margin pressured … but $40,000 on technology doesn’t go a long way.
“Consumers are much more advanced. Amazon has sold tens of millions of Alexa and Echo devices.”
“Every office should buy one. People should get one and have a play with it and ask themselves what problem they would like it to solve.”
Other things Alexa will be able to do through Amazon’s collaboration with other Australian companies or third-party developers include check bank account balances, order pizzas or even request an Uber ride.
So if Mr Dalton could put words in Alexa’s mouth what would he have her say?
“Have an experimental mindset.”
Realestate.com.au News is available on all Amazon Echo devices in Australia from February 1.