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The evolution of the intelligent assistant

31st May 2017

Posted By Paul Boughton


We've all had some sort of experience with an intelligent assistant. Whether it's Apple's Siri, Microsoft's Cortana or Amazon's Alexa. However, this technology is not just for novelty consumer use. Roxanne Abercrombie explains the role of intelligent assistants for businesses

Things didn’t run smoothly when the astronauts in 2001: A Space Odyssey toyed with artificial intelligence.

When asking to be let back inside the spaceship, supercomputer HAL eerily responded, “I’m sorry, Dave, I’m afraid I can’t do that.” Thankfully, the personal assistants we use to today are a little friendlier.

Grab your phone and ask Siri the same question.

Today’s intelligent assistants are designed to provide friendly, fast and intuitive customer service, so you’re likely to get an instant, sassy response, like Siri’s: “Here we go again, we intelligent assistants will never live that down.”

Currently, consumers are basking in the fun of instantaneously arranging dinner reservations, making language translations on the move and, of course, prompting Siri to give them humorous responses to ridiculous questions.

Every technology giant — including Apple, Google and Microsoft — is investing significant resources into the development of new intelligent assistants. In fact, AI is quickly becoming a major focus of competition for these firms.

Let’s face it, if consumers can use their smartphone to order a taxi, set an alarm for the next morning and send a text message to let their friends know they’re home safely, they will expect the same speed and intuition whenever they use technology — including when dealing with businesses for customer service enquiries.

From painstakingly slow automated speech recognition (ASR) and unreliable chat bots, automation has not always had the best reputation in the customer service realm.

Even today, when the technology is highly efficient and capable, there’s a widespread fear that artificial intelligence will replace human service representatives entirely.

However, the apocalyptic vision is far from the reality.

The term ‘intelligent assistant’ simply describes a software agent that can perform automated tasks for an individual, whether that be through voice commands or written as text in a live chat window.  For customers, this technology can simplify basic enquiries.

In e-commerce, for example, if a customer wanted to return an item and replace it with an alternative, the assistant can automatically draw customers’ details from the CRM system, update the file and process the new order for the same address.

For more complicated enquiries, there should always be human agent available.

As automated technology will reduce the amount of time agents usually spend on administrative tasks, they are free to deal with these complicated enquiries in a more efficient manner.

What’s more, for the companies implementing this technology, the data it generates can provide an unprecedented insight into human patterns, including the vocal and written clues that signify a user’s feelings and preferences.

For technology giants, collecting this information will be crucial to the next phase of artificial intelligence — making the technology even smarter and more reliable.

For some, the thought of even smarter artificial intelligence is a scary dystopia — we’re blaming you for this, HAL.

However, there is no need to fear. Artificial intelligence is already a major focus for technology giants, and as a result, it will continue to play an increasing role in our personal and professional lives.

What is important, is that businesses and consumers embrace intelligent assistants — not as a threat, but as the name would suggest, an assistant.

Roxanne Abercrombie is with business automation specialist, Parker Software. 









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