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Virtual assistants, chatbots poised for mass adoption in 2017

Clint Boulton | Jan. 3, 2017
Enterprises will continue to experiment with virtual assistants and chatbots in 2017 as they look to balance better customer service with operational efficiency.

"By making that change in a call you create a much better conversation experience for the customer," says Cogito CEO Joshua Feast. "What we're trying to do is help humans and phone professionals to better manage social signals transmitted back and forth in a conversation," Feast says. The software also checks an important box of AI that enables human augmentation rather than replacement, a major concern in the burgeoning era of machine automation.

Meanwhile, companies such as cloud analytics company Boxever are setting their sights on closing the loop between operational performance and CRM. Boxeever is using ML and data to improve customer service in airline travel. For example, if an airline loses a passenger's bag, Boxever will note the miscue and prompt the airline to notify the passenger via a chatbot, says CEO Dave O'Flanagan.

It will also prompt cabin crew attendants to offer the passenger a business-class upgrade for their next flight. The software also uses neural networks to select what airline offers to email customers, based on their profile preferences. If customer doesn't respond to a certain type of offer Boxever will make alternative suggestions in future email prompts. In 2017, O'Flanagan says the challenge for Boxever and other CRM players leveraging AI and ML is figuring out customer intent. "Whoever cracks that will be able to respond to customers in a more empathetic way," O'Flanagan says.

AI closer but still so far away

Now for the sobering part. While conversational AI and virtual assistants can automate a great deal of tasks, there are several hurdles to clear, as Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg learned himself after building Jarvis, a virtual assistant he hacked together to automate manual tasks in his home, such as switching lights off and on and playing music.

Zuckerberg, who chronicled how he used natural language processing, face recognition and speech recognition software for Jarvis, noted that while he built a decent assistant that he wouldn't be able to build a system that could learn completely new skills on its own unless he made some "fundamental breakthrough in the state of AI along the way."

"In a way, AI is both closer and farther off than we imagine," Zuckerberg wrote. "AI is closer to being able to do more powerful things than most people expect -- driving cars, curing diseases, discovering planets, understanding media. Those will each have a great impact on the world, but we're still figuring out what real intelligence is."


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