will.i.am Fashion Tech Forum

Will.i.am has a history of being a fan and early mover on technology trends. When The Black Eyed Peas singer introduced his smartwatch at Salesforce’s Dreamforce conference in 2014, the stand-alone wearable tech — with its wee keyboard and separate cellular connection — was ahead of its time. In fact, it beat Apple by a full three years.

At this year’s event, the star is focusing on a new set of emerging technologies: Artificial intelligence and voice technology. His I.am+ start-up, now flush with $117 million in venture funding, unveiled Omega, a new customer-service voice assistant aimed at the business crowd.

Think of it as a business-class version of Alexa, the five-year-old tech start-up’s first effort oriented toward enterprise.

The company may have started out with hardware devices, like headphones and watches, but it treats the new initiative as serious business. “We’re live in the market in Austria,” said Will.i.am, who struck a deal with Deutsche Telekom AG to integrate the tool as a customer service chat bot. The European telecom titan has been using it since July, and will expand into an Omega-powered voice phone system in the future.

Excited about voice and AI technology, the performing artist and entrepreneur believes companies have only just scratched the surface of their potential. He’ll speak more at length about that, and particulars of how Omega works, in a Tuesday session titled, “Dreamtalk: Will.i.am — The Next Evolution of Interactive A.I.”

The annual Dreamforce event — part conference, part pep rally for Salesforce enterprise software —  draws attendees and speakers across a broad range of industries, from life sciences to fashion, beauty and retail, among others. Decision-makers across large and small organizations convene to discuss the key areas driving the future of their sectors.

Last year, the tech company introduced Einstein, an AI product that supports everything from customer service bots to algorithm-driven insights into individual consumer behavior, and this year, AI remains a major theme. Some of the recurring talking points across sessions feature machine learning and algorithm-based processes as critical tools for meeting consumer expectations and driving the personalization people expect on a massive scale.

So AI development may be just beginning, but it’s already creating sea changes in retail.

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