Currently, the virtual assistants that come to mind might not seem like invaluable resources. Most are regarded as consumer-focused products, but they’re constantly being improved.
Amazon’s Alexa, Microsoft’s Cortana, Apple’s Siri or Google’s Assistant – all these products have something to teach us, and represent big steps in the AI timeline, but we’re barely on the verge. In fact, AI looks as central to the future of business as electricity or internet access.
Delegating the Easy Stuff
Virtual assistants won’t need to handle critical decisions or creative tasks, because we won’t want them to. Simple tasks will be taken care of, but not in an obviously automated way like a macro command in Excel.
With AI and machine learning, virtual assistants will be able to learn how we perform certain tasks while taking into account new parameters and changes along the way. With our more menial tasks being handled, we’ll be able to spend more time on work that really challenges us.
Preventing Costly Errors
Humans make mistakes; quite a lot actually. Some of these errors waste a bit of our time while others can end up costing a company millions of dollars. With virtual assistants as partners, we have another set of eyes on our work, helping us catch mistakes before they do any damage, and suggesting plans of action we may never have considered.
Better Customer Service
When it comes to service, customers always want more and companies always want to improve, but there’s always a gap. For any company, to maintain a 100% customer support score would just be too expensive since it comes down to having a large number of people on board, many of whom would just be sitting around waiting.
Virtual assistants can greatly optimize customer support in a number of ways. Advanced chatbots can handle calls and common issues, and with machine learning, interactions can be compared and learned from, freeing up agents to nurture customer relations on a higher level.
The crazy thing is that we’re already there. In 2016, students at Georgia Tech were blown away when they learned that for an entire semester, the TA of their computer science course turned out to be a virtual assistant named “Jill Watson”. Jill, a chatbot-style virtual teaching assistant created by Professor Ashok Goel, had impressed everyone with her excellent responsiveness and friendly rapport via the course’s online forum. Some students were looking forward to praising her informal reviews at the end of the course, only to learn that she was an algorithm put together by their professor.
All the Answers, All the Time
A reliable and company-focused source of information is critical in an office environment. A Google search won’t tell you where the brand book is kept, or how to access the marketing department’s email funnel. Colleagues asking each other questions is great, and healthy human interaction is vital, but technical questions can be distracting and sometimes you don’t get the answer you need right away.
If every employee had their own virtual assistant, knowledge could be focused and constantly on-tap, taking into account the employee’s history and needs as well as the specifics of the company and the industry it’s a part of.
Virtual assistants can be used as personal trainers for onboarding, and as opposed to fellow employees, will be available 100% of the time to teach and mentor each employee according to his/her own strengths and weaknesses.
But Will They Turn On Us?
There are dangers to look out for as virtual assistants become more common in offices, but since this is a process, we should be able to make sure that the technology suits our work as we progress with it. Virtual assistants are systems that need to be suitable for the work environments that they belong to.
The main dangers will likely be in the legal and data security spheres. This added layer of communication will lead to more information being stored, which in turn would lead to an increase in the vulnerability of sensitive information. And with everything being recorded, employees might become over-conscious of what they’re saying due to possible legal consequences although, depending on state, consent is usually needed for recording conversations.
Another danger is something that has been witnessed in various AI projects – bias. It seems that when machines learn from human conversations, they often end up amplifying biased opinions. By using AI with our current systems, we can only expect machine learning to repeat our mistakes. The big challenge will be for companies to find ways to avoid this type of bias so that the algorithms can offer us alternate paths and not just extreme versions of our current way of doing things.
Don’t Forget to Invite the Bots to the Office Party
With the current rate of AI development, we’ll definitely be seeing a rise of virtual assistants in the workplace. There’s no reason why this shouldn’t be viewed positively if it’s handled responsibly. Advanced virtual assistants won’t be bots that replace humans, but instead, will be able to augment human capabilities, allowing us to reach our full potential. Employees and management will have more time to focus on creativity, intricate problem-solving, and the nurturing of professional relationships for better and more fruitful collaborations.