Even though research and advisory firm Gartner says 30% of web browsing will be screenless by 2020, Purna Virji, senior Bing Ads PPC training manager, told marketers at the Inbounder on May 22 not to panic.

SwissCognitivePointing to a Cortana video in which women plan a 30th birthday party in Las Vegas without any landing pages and instead rely on digital assistants to do the heavy lifting, Virji noted this is where consumers are headed, but she also reassured the Inbounder audience while there will be a shift away from screens, voice won’t kill screens – just like mobile didn’t kill desktop.

Social Assistants on the rise

According to Virji, we are training artificial intelligence (AI) to be human-like so that it looks at something, understands it, recognizes it and responds back – like Microsoft’s how-old.net, or the #HowOldRobot, which is learning to understand faces and tell users how old they look, and Xiaoice in China , a social assistant on networks like Weibo and Touchpal – and who Virji said is designed to be users’ friend. Like, say, if you tell Xiaoice you broke up with your boyfriend, she’ll put you on a 30-day breakup plan, Virji said. As a result, Xiaoice has 40 million active monthly users – and 25% have told her they love her. That’s 10 million people professing love for an AI.

A never tiring listener

“Xiaoice is a sophisticated conversationalist with a distinct personality. She can chime into a conversation with context-specific facts about things like celebrities, sports or finance but she also has empathy and a sense of humor,” Bing said in a blog post. “Using sentiment analysis, she can adapt her phrasing and responses based on positive or negative cues from her human counterparts. She can tell jokes, recite poetry, share ghost stories, relay song lyrics, pronounce winning lottery numbers and much more. Like a friend, she can carry on extended conversations that can reach hundreds of exchanges in length.”

Non-human Humans

Xiaoice has even given weather reports in China and Virji said she is more human in her descriptions of upcoming weather and its impact on residents than actual human meteorologists. This, in turn, makes an interesting point: Consumers are willing to engage with AI if we can make them forget they’re not human, Virji said. Chinese ecommerce site JD.com even implemented a Xiaoice marketing channel to provide product advice and help customers make purchasing decisions and Virji said it is one of JD.com’s most highly profitable channels.