Artificial intelligence has always been something we think of as futuristic, the stuff of movies, and far-fetched in the real world, but they’re much closer than we realize. Apple’s Siri, Amazon’s Echo, and Microsoft’s Cortana are changing the way we interact with technology in the home, but it won’t stop there. Businesses are taking notice of the potential for chatbots in the workplace, and the market for AI is exploding, predicted to surge to $47 billion by 2020.
Chatbots have been adopted in the workplace by 19% of companies, with the expectation that will rise to 57% by 2021. Primarily used in the customer service segment, companies are finding ways to deploy them in sales, promotion, intelligent Q&A, and automated recruitment, with most of the impact hitting administrative and routine white-collar office functions.
One company, x.ai, has rolled out an artificial intelligence assistant to handle calendar functions for busy professionals. Aptly named Amy Ingram (note her initials), she handles your schedule, so when meetings are requested, she deals with the logistics of time and location through email with all meeting attendees, and voila, a meeting appears on your calendar according to your availability and preferences. If there are cancellations or conflicts, she navigates those as well, saving busy professionals hours they can use for more important things. According to some of the professionals Amy assists, she’s so life-like that she often gets asked if she’s attending the meetings she sets up.
Marketers are taking advantage of chatbots, too, simulating written or spoken text to deliver personalized interactions online. These pieces of software have the potential to participate in many routine and programmable activities around the office, making digital coworkers not only possible, but highly efficient in the workplace. Then there are time consuming processes like hiring that can be streamlined. Talla is poised to become the digital HR tool of the future, using algorithms to search through employment sites like LinkedIn to recruit new talent, generate targeted interview questions, and improve the hiring process to save companies both time and money.
There are, however, drawbacks to using artificial intelligence in the office. They can be buggy, using embarrassing autocorrect mistakes, failing to understand questions, or providing frustratingly inaccurate data results. Aside from these issues, the chatbots also learn personal information about their users, raising privacy and security concerns. Because the devices are always listening for your voice to activate them, the potential for being recorded is real, raising questions about security risks and industrial espionage.
Perhaps such things are the stuff of spy novels, but there are other, less cloak-and-dagger issues, such as bots accidentally ordering expensive items without safeguards in place to prevent them, or responding to voices coming through the speakers of a TV or radio. Maybe in the workplace, responding to TV or radio voices would be less of an issue, but if a debate about upgrading computers for your employees results in a mistaken order of thirty new laptops without management approval, it’s a problem worth being aware of beforehand. This is why many IT departments suggest vetting any artificial intelligence assistants before they’re adopted in the workplace.
The global workforce is changing, and artificial intelligence is at the forefront of it all, taking on the routine and mundane tasks that waste time and lower productivity of the humans in business. We’re a long way off from robots taking our jobs, but perhaps not so far away from robots making our jobs easier, so we can concentrate on more efficient and impactful ways of doing business. Just ask Amy Ingram.