A Note from the Editor

Artificial intelligence (AI), chatbots, conversational interfaces, deep learning, robots—if you haven’t been living completely off the grid for the past two or three years, it probably seems clear that the machines are taking over. Or are they? And even if they are infiltrating, have we lost all control? Is there nothing we, as technical communicators, can do? Better question: is there something we should do?

I contend that if you are an excellent technical communicator, then the skills that got you here will get you there. Whether you’re creating content for an Alexa skill or training IBM Watson, the intended consumer of your knowledge and information is, eventually, a human. As we always have, we must use our advocacy, research, strategy, architecture, design, development, and delivery skills to create the right content and present it exactly when and where the right people need it. The storage format might be different. The chunks might be smaller. The delivery medium might be new. The interactions might be unknown—for now.

As the outstanding authors in this issue demonstrate, our abilities to understand, synthesize, empathize, and innovate will help us over this learning curve—as they did when we moved from typewriters to word processors, from print to online, from adjunct to embedded, and through every other transition and transformation this industry has faced. We will arm ourselves with our core skills; learn, learn, learn; and master this new challenge.

To the “learn, learn, learn” point, let me provide you with some new ideas to ponder and some new skills and tools to try out, brought to you by this fantastic lineup of articles.

Ray Gallon, CEO of the Transformation Society, starts off the issue by getting us thinking deeply about the ethics of content in the new world of AI, conversational interfaces, robotics, and all that is Information 4.0. He challenges us to consider ethics more rigorously in our work in light of our new machine-based reality.

Eric Reiss, CEO of the user experience (UX) company FatDUX Group, discusses why we should, and how we can, create shared references—not only for traditional content and interactions. He makes it clear that a lack of shared references will only be a bigger problem in a future with machines.

Cruce Saunders, Founder of [A], wrote an amazing piece for his “Content Engineering” column—so good that I moved it into the features lineup. He provides an argument and vision for the next generation of authoring in our industry—for both human and machine consumption.

Marianne Macgregor is a User Assistance Development Architect at SAP, and she leads a corporate-wide team to bring conversational AI to the user assistance (UA) teams at SAP (and beyond). Her case study provides a great starting point for any team attempting to skill up in this space.

Rahel Bailie, content strategist and instructor of content strategy, lays down the ContentOps gauntlet and challenges us to implement content operations to optimize our organizations. Thankfully, she provides her tips, as well—all based on an excellent content strategy, of course!

Alex Masycheff, CEO of Intuillion Ltd., provides a useful perspective on tools to help us make chatbots really helpful. If you weren’t sure what ontologies are, or how structured content, user context, and ontologies play together, you’re in for a treat!

And for our last (but certainly not least) feature, Ondrej Sirocka, product manager for the Kentico content management system, gets practical, bringing us his tips and tricks for writing conversational interfaces—all hard-won through the experience of completing his own conversational projects.

And if that’s not enough knowledge, I also have three columns for you in this issue:

  • Scott Abel interviews Deborah Bosley in “Meet the Change Agents,” who gives us the plain truth about plain language.
  • In “Editing Matters,” Michelle Corbin drops her super-editor tips and tricks for those of us not lucky enough to have a super-editor of our very own.
  • Kirk St.Amant addresses attention—how to hold it and keep it—in this issue’s edition of “The Cognitive Communicator.”

And, as always, don’t forget to check out the Society pages!

Finally, let’s have a conversation! We’ve included author and columnist email addresses so that you can get in touch. My email address is here, too! We can also discuss articles and issues with you online, so we hope that you’ll ask a question or start or join a conversation!

Until next time: to your wild success!

— Andrea L. Ames


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