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Conversational Technologies
6 min read
Aaron Bours

The 10 Conversational AI Leaders You Need to Know in 2021

2020-2021 has been a springboard for conversational AI. This year alone, conversational AI is projected to generate $600 billion in revenue for businesses worldwide, incentivizing a shift from “traditional” customer engagement technologies to AI-powered conversational interfaces (50% of enterprises plan to spend more on conversational AI in 2021 than on traditional mobile app development). 

While the mediums themselves (Alexa, Google Assistant, Siri) are seemingly everywhere, we often overlook the vast ecosystem of trailblazers behind the impact of how we interact with our digital surroundings. 

And so, this blog post (for a change of pace) will not focus on conversational AI, its potential, and its various use cases, but rather on the people that are charting the path ahead for the development and proliferation of this technology.

Without further ado, we give you the 10 conversational AI leaders you need to know in 2021. 

1. Allys Parsons

If you’re seeking a position in conversational AI, look no further than Allys Parsons, and her co-founded recruitment agency, both solely devoted to employment hopefuls in the fields of conversational AI, chatbots, voice bots, speech, and NLU. According to, the conversational AI industry is currently facing a talent shortage of 65% with skills to develop and work with bots. By partnering with the foremost companies in the field Parsons and her team have carved themselves a niche that, thanks to an industry market share expected to balloon to $13.9 billion by 2025, is promising to garner lucrative dividends for all parties involved. 

In her own words:  "The Conversational AI industry is a great example of how diversity makes business stronger. Take the Conversation Design field, for example. It brings together a mix of skills and expertise - from journalists to film writers, UX consultants to web designers, to customer experience specialists. What makes this special is that between them, they have seen it all. Coming from very different backgrounds, they can share stories and learn from each other, while also bringing a range of perspectives to their work."

Allys Parsons
Allys Parsons

2. Bret Kinsella

Bret Kinsella is unquestionably one of the most vocal (pun intended) advocates of voice AI. So much so that in 2016 he established, a leading source of research, analysis, and news for the voice AI industry. Kinsella has rightfully earned his stature as a voice AI guru, boasting a long list of accolades which include Commentator of the Year on Voice and AI (Alexa Conference 2019, Project Voice 2020), Voice AI Journalist of the Year (Project Voice 2020), and Top 15 in Voice (SoundHound). With 24% of Americans 18+ owning a smart speaker, Kinsella was wise to position himself as a thought leader on all things voice AI more than half a decade ago.

In his own words: "The future of consumer robots may not be for general-purpose tasks or even social interaction. Instead, single-purpose robots are more likely to succeed and coordinate their activities with Alexa, Siri, and Google Assistant, each of which can inhabit any device."

Bret Kinsella
Bret Kinsella

3. Shyamala Prayaga

We are witnessing an automotive revolution. The cars of 2021 are more electric, autonomous, and vocal (?) than we could have ever imagined, an era in which the concept of hands-off driving is reimagined and reinvented by voice tech mavericks such as Ford's Shyamala Prayaga. Thanks to Prayaga, soon, you'll be able to accomplish a variety of tasks by speaking to your Ford Focus, like turning down the AC or sending a text message without ever taking your hands off the wheel. But Prayaga is not only concerned with the success of the world's first automobile company--she is also a fervent evangelist for UX and voice technology, making frequent keynote speeches at events such as the Chatbot Summit, Business of Bots, and more. 

In her own words: "When the vehicle becomes a driver, the voice becomes a companion. When people are driving in autonomous vehicles, the natural modality to speak is voice, hence the need for a digital assistant becomes more of a necessity than a desire. Right from answering your vehicle-related queries to entertaining you, there are many use cases autonomy will adopt from traditional digital assistant use cases."

 Shyamala Prayag
Shyamala Prayaga

4. Dave Limp

Amazon often comes across as a one-man show thanks to its (now retired) colorful CEO, Jeff Bezos. But if you just asked your Alexa a question, finished a book on your Kindle, or bought a new Echo smart speaker, Amazon's Senior Vice President of Devices and Services Dave Limp is the designer and distributor of the experience you just had. Limp has been in charge of planning and orchestrating the rollouts of Amazon AI hardware and software that have become the flagships of the Seattle-based two trillion-dollar mega-corporation. Whatever the 'new Alexa' will be, it's safe to assume Limp will be one of the masterminds behind its success. 

In his own words: "If you think about Amazon and what we want to do in the future, we want everybody connected. A, it's good for society, and B, it also will be good for Amazon. Obviously, more people can shop, which we like, and more people can get access to things like Alexa, and more developers can get access to things like AWS."

Dave Limp
Dave Limp

5. Rick Osterloh

Sitting right across Dave Limp on the Seattle-Mountain View divide is Google Senior Vice President of Devices and Services Rick Osterloh. As per Fast Company's Harry McCracken, Osterloh has shaped the modern era of Google gadgets. The man behind the Google Assistant chirping on your Google Home device and Android phone spearheaded Google's foray into hardware. And though he was responsible for $3 billion in profit from these initiatives in his third year on the job alone, Osterloh insists that his main focus is to harmoniously support and complement Google's continual software innovation with the right hardware, stating:

"A lot of the new innovations are going to require the development of a service and oftentimes a new hardware product. Sometimes even silicon developed in conjunction to achieve an end result. And you can see that in our work in data centers, you can see that in our work in consumer electronics. It's a very new time."

Rick Osterloh
Rick Osterloh

6. Bradley Metrock

If Bret Kinsella is the voice tech universe's bull horn, then Bradley Metrock is its gravitational force, heading Project Voice, which consists of The Project Voice Advisory Group, Project Voice Catalyst, and the Project Voice Media Group, three initiatives focused on bringing together buyers, sellers, partners, and investors through an integrated platform of content, community, and consulting. Hosting the foremost events on voice AI, producing one of the most listened-to podcasts on the topic, and helping seed-stage voice tech companies grow, Metrock and his team are a hyper-powered engine and a focal point for the entire voice community. 

In his words: "I think a business, including mom and pop gas stations, and as you get into the enterprise space, needs to be working with voice or working with groups like Data-Driven Design who are working with voice on their behalf so that they are accumulating knowledge and they're getting acclimated to the space. But the bottom line is that if you're not delving into those waters, you're falling behind, and you're not understanding. You have no hope of understanding how voice search is working now and will work in the future. You have no hope of understanding Sonic branding and how you need to be thinking about that with regards to a voice experience."

Listen to my guest appearance on Metrock’s This Week In Voice podcast

Bradley Metrock
Bradley Metrock

7. Yaniv Leviathan

Engineering Director Yaniv Leviathan leading a team of brilliant computational linguistics minds (some now holding managerial roles at Hyro), was responsible for one of the most exciting moments in conversational AI of the past decade. Google Duplex, which was unveiled to the world by CEO Sundar Pichai at Google's 2018 I/O developer conference, resulted from years of arduous work and out-of-the-box thinking. The final product is an uncannily human-sounding voice assistant capable of catching the most fleeting nuance in human language and automatically accomplishing tasks for its users. Read the blog post published by Leviathan and Yossi Matias, Vice President, Engineering, upon the release of Google Duplex. 

Yaniv Leviathan
Yaniv Leviathan

8. Allie Miller

Allie Miller is perhaps the closest thing to a 'conversational AI celebrity'. With almost one million LinkedIn followers and thousands more on Twitter, Miller is an influencer to the full extent of the word, making keynote appearances in technology conferences worldwide. Miller was the youngest-ever woman to build an artificial intelligence product at IBM—spearheading large-scale product development across computer vision, conversational AI, data, and regulation. In her current role with Amazon, she is the Global Head of Machine Learning Business Development, Startups, and Venture Capital.

In her words: "Keep a running document on advice you share that surprises and sticks with other people. We frequently take what we know for granted and believe that everyone else already holds these same understandings. We're wrong. And in doing so, we often miss internalizing our most important insights and neglect to share some of our most valuable pieces of advice. By taking intentional note of what learnings resonate with others, you can better help more people with effective guidance and personally reflect on these takeaways to improve your own approaches."

Allie Miller
Allie Miller

9. Andrew Ng

Andrew Ng's resume is as impressive as his extensive research on machine learning, AI, and deep learning. Ng formerly served as VP & Chief Scientist of Baidu and Head of AI Initiatives at Google. Currently, he is the Co-Chairman and Co-Founder of Coursera and an Adjunct Professor at Stanford University. If that's not astonishing enough, in 2017, Ng founded DeepLearning.AI, an education technology company that is empowering the global workforce to build an AI-powered future through world-class education, hands-on training, and a collaborative community that is placing talent in some leading conversational AI firms.

In his words: "The strategy of integrating AI is as complex as the technology. It involves data acquisition, organizational structure design, prioritizing AI projects, and more. Compounding this, good AI strategists are even rarer than good AI technologists."

Andrew Ng
Andrew Ng

10. Paul Roma

Paul Roma is the global General Manager for IBM Watson Health, a branch of IBM Watson devoted to lead the transformation of health around the world by applying next-generation technologies, such as data, analytics, conversational AI, and hybrid cloud. Back in October during HLTH VRTL 2020, Roma introduced the company’s latest product, the IBM Digital Health Pass, a built-for-smartphones block-chain based "digital health wallet" containing a person's health status, a model that is being replicated across the globe. 

In his words: "It is clear to me that the challenges in front of us require an integrated platform. You have to have a deep bench, not just in technology experience, but also in the ability to productize it and bring it to the market at scale."

Paul Roma
Paul Roma

Honorary Mention: Israel Krush

Slightly biased, but we just had to include this one. Israel is the CEO & Co-founder at Hyro, the #1 Adaptive Communications Platform. Along with his co-founders, Uri Valevski, former Engineering Lead for Google Duplex, and Rom Cohen, from Turbonomic, Israel is going against the conventional grain of intent-based solutions to create conversational interfaces that adapt to ever-changing scenarios, use cases, and language inputs. How? With a new language-based approach that fuses together knowledge graphs, natural language automation, and computational linguistics. Find out more about the differences between traditional conversational AI and Adaptive Communications here.

Israel Krush

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Aaron Bours
June 7, 2021
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