The Rise of the Cognitive Assistant
As the internet rose to prominence in the 90s, the name Jeeves became synonymous with asking for help online. But fast forward to 2017 and Jeeves has made way for a new breed of household names such as Siri, Alexa, Cortana, and the slightly less-exotic-sounding Google Assistant.
Welcome to the age of voice-activated intelligent assistants and their emerging role as the interface between users and the applications they want to use. Running on a complex combination of cognitive systems, deep learning, and machine learning, these intuitive assistants must be constantly provided with information in order to improve their response times and meet their users' requirements.
Such assistants are not limited to mobile devices alone, and they are not even the sole preserve of IT solutions providers anymore. Indeed, the idea of cognitive systems is moving beyond the individual ecosystem and becoming embedded into the core strategies of businesses across an increasingly broad range of industries.
That's why you can now read about the likes of the BMW and Fiat working with Microsoft and Google to integrate their assistants into their smart and autonomous vehicles and ultimately enhance the value proposition of their cars and improve the overall user experience. And they are not alone in embracing the capabilities of artificial intelligence (AI).
Virtual assistants are also becoming prominent in the finance and public sectors, with banks, insurance companies, and government services using 'robots' to enable frequent customer interaction, improve the efficiency of their customer service, and increase customer loyalty.
For example, IBM's cognitive engine Watson is being used within the insurance sector to provide customers with quotes for their insurance premiums. And the Dubai Economic Department is currently utilizing Watson as the basis for its intelligent agent 'SAAD' in a bid to help spread "happiness" across the emirate.
As part of its 'Branch of the Future' initiative, Emirates NBD has deployed Pepper, an AI-activated humanoid to service customers. And over in the U.S., Hilton Hotels and Resorts has gone down a similar route, utilizing a humanoid for standard processes such as check-in and check-out procedures, thereby freeing up staff to address more specialized customer requirements.
Studies show that a typical working day in an office can be spent sifting through and consolidating data across various systems, while a huge amount of time is spent on mundane tasks such as responding to routine emails and scheduling meetings. In this regard, cognitive assistants offer a cost-effective way to alleviate this burden by gathering information and managing routine tasks.
This can be taken a level further with AI being integrated into enterprise applications to create intelligent applications. A case in point is Salesforce's introduction of Einstein, an AI agent designed to help improve the productivity of sales representatives using the platform.
And as information gathering accelerates and improvements in machine learning are made, these solutions should be able to provide contextual results. This makes AI perfect for research-heavy sectors such as healthcare and pharmaceuticals, as the technology can help researchers become more agile with their studies and discoveries.
If you are evaluating whether you should utilize AI within your own organization, there a few things that you should consider. Chief among them is the impact on your existing workforce. While these solutions will initially be utilized to take care of mundane tasks, they will steadily improve and become more contextual, so you will need to determine precisely where they would best fit in the organization.
Cognitive assistants technically find it difficult to emulate human emotions such as empathy, so this needs to be considered when placing them in the services sector. This is because situations will inevitably arise where customers' complaints need to be treated on a case-by-case basis and with a degree of compassion that a cognitive assistant simply cannot provide.
There is also the safety and privacy factor to consider. These intelligent assistants and engines work most efficiently when connected to the wider ecosystem, which introduces debate around what data they should be allowed to access and who should be able to share it with. And just as with any other solution, these assistants can be hacked, which only serves to fuel the debate even further.
Despite these concerns, cognitive assistants have a fundamental part to play of the digital economy. And as the underlying technologies improve and new use cases emerge, you can be sure they will come to play a prominent role in our day-to-day lives, both at home and at work.