Salesforce Quietly Shuts Down the Einstein Voice Assistant
Enterprise business software giant Salesforce is shutting down the Einstein Voice Assistant this month, according to the company’s newest release notes. The end of the voice assistant marks a shift in priorities for Salesforce’s AI plans, just two years after it launched, and less than a year since Salesforce began opening up the platform for clients to build their own custom voice assistants.
The official release note is very brief, just stating that “Einstein Voice Assistant is scheduled to be retired on July 10, 2020,” and that it applies to the online Salesforce system and both the iOS and Android Salesforce mobile apps. The greater Einstein AI platform is not going away, however, and Salesforce is continuing to update and add new features, minus the voice assistant facet.
“Voice is a priority for us at Salesforce, and voice capabilities are built into various product and Platform services,” a Salesforce spokesperson told Voicebot in an email. “For example, Service Cloud Voice and Einstein Call Coaching are both based on voice technology, and the new Salesforce Anywhere app will also contain voice capabilities. At this time we’re discontinuing our betas of Einstein Voice Assistant and Einstein Voice Skills. Our learnings will continue to inform our new product, the Salesforce Anywhere App. The app will include voice functionality in a new reimagined way to increase remote productivity, ease of use and collaboration.”
The new Salesforce Anywhere App seems to have absorbed most of the voice assistant team. Salesforce Anywhere is built around collaborative tools for remote work, including video and text messaging within the Salesforce system. At a time when far more people are working from home and not traveling for work, it makes sense that Salesforce would want to adjust where its employees are devoting time and resources. Though it may coincidental, the end of the voice assistant also dovetails with the news that Salesforce chief scientist Richard Socher has just left his role to start a new company after four years. Socher, who will still be an advisor for Salesforce, originally joined after Salesforce acquired his deep learning and natural language processing AI startup Metamind. At Salesforce, he worked a lot with Einstein in boosting its language, translation, and computer vision capabilities. The timing is at least notable, even if it’s not directly connected to the end of Einstein Voice.
Salesforce won’t lack for partners if it chooses to experiment with voice assistants again. Along with the Amazon partnership, Salesforce worked with Apple to create a new version of its mobile app on iOS that users can control with Apple’s Siri voice assistant. As Microsoft and other major enterprise platforms continue to weave voice and AI into their business services, Salesforce may make a deal to give Einstein a voice again.
“Einstein Voice will usher in a new era of conversational CRM, delivering new levels of productivity and redefining customer experiences with voice technology,” Salesforce CTO Parker Harris said when the voice assistant debuted at the Dreamforce conference in 2018.
The fanfare accompanying the launch continued, with new features and ways to use the Einstein Voice Assistant spotlighted regularly. When Salesforce spent $45 million to acquire Israeli conversational AI startup Bonobo last May, the assumption was that the technology would in part be used to improve Einstein’s voice AI capabilities. The commitment to the voice assistant appeared solid last November when Salesforce started rolling out the ability for clients to build custom voice apps for Einstein. The idea was to enable businesses to adjust the voice assistant’s interface while keeping the functions mostly the same. Salesforce was excited enough about the customization feature to even build some Einstein smart speakers designed to look like the cartoonish Salesforce mascot of the physicist with light-up hair and access to Amazon’s Alexa voice assistant too. Gimmicks aside, the point of the voice assistant was to make it easier to both access and input data into Salesforce, and the timeline for the custom voice apps theoretically extended into 2021. Now, the shape of voice AI at Salesforce will have an entirely new shape.