Artificial intelligence (AI) allows computers and machines embedded with sensors to “think.” They can understand natural language, process information and make rudimentary decisions.
The most obvious and visible use of AI in the digital world is via “chat bots,” simple programs that can interact with customers online and via mobile app to answer questions, resolve issues and educate users about products and services. Linger on a site for too long, and a box pops up with an image of a customer support agent and an offer to provide assistance.
At the other end of the scale, intelligent machines or robots (more likely, algorithm-driven software programs) may someday make proactive, data-driven staffing decisions and run enterprises. (Hopefully, “someday” won’t come too soon! Well, at least I know they can never replace human writers. Oh, wait.)
Fortunately, there’s a middle ground between benign, low-level bot functionality and mankind’s enslavement by a coordinated army of AI-powered, connected machines. And if we’re lucky, 2017 will see that middle ground come to life as the year of the bot personal assistant in the enterprise.
It’s already happening in the home, with Amazon Echo and Google Home. These voice-activated “smart home” systems feature limited personal assistant functionality, such as web search (Google Home), playing music and videos on demand, checking calendars, making lists, ordering pizza, etc.
Here’s what coming down the road for the enterprise as vendors create platforms and launch products for internal-facing functionality:
Chat box creator Kore launched both a bot-making platform and a personal assistant bot last July that can speak with other bots and interact with proprietary software such as Salesforce, enabling it to perform tasks such as creating leads or generating reports, either automatically or on command.
Zoom.ai, a start-up based in Toronto, has built an automated virtual assistant capable of scheduling meetings, preparing workers for meetings by gathering information about the people with whom they are meeting, and even offering to make email introductions to people its “owner” wants to meet.
NoHold, a Silicon Valley company, in December released a platform that allows non-programmers to create virtual assistant bots. Called Quickstart Albert, the platform ingests information via text from Word and Google Doc documents, providing the bot with an easily accessible knowledge base for work projects, processes, and more.
Bot technology is still developing, and use cases within the enterprise are likely to emerge slowly in 2017. But based on the information compiled by my bot helper and relayed to the writing bot that has taken over my job, bot personal assistants someday will be as commonplace in the enterprise as email.
Are you ready to offload some duties to a bot? What tasks would you like to give up?