In this article, Stephen Parker, CEO of Parker Software, examines whether artificial intelligence is all it’s cracked up to be.
If planet Earth had been created one year ago, the human species would be just ten minutes old. Putting this into context, the industrial era would have kick-started a mere two seconds ago. Thanks to human influence, the pace of technological advancement on Earth is astonishing. However, we are already on the verge of the next change. The potential of artificial intelligence has been discussed by scientists since the 1950s and modern technological advances are finally bringing this technology to the masses.
Research suggests that artificial intelligence could be as ‘smart’ as human beings within the next century. Originally, human programmers were required to handcraft knowledge items painstakingly. Today, however, one-off algorithms can teach machines to take on and develop knowledge automatically, in the same way a human infant would. Artificial intelligence has reached a critical tipping point and its power is set to impact every business, in every industry sector.
Already, 38 per cent of enterprises are using artificial intelligence in their business operations and this figure is set to grow to 62 per cent by 2018. In fact, according to predictions by Forrester, investments in artificial intelligence technology will increase three-fold in 2017. These figures mean that the market could be worth an estimated $47 billion by 2020.
One of the most notable applications of AI from the past few years is the creation of intelligent assistants. Intelligent assistants are interactive systems that can communicate with humans to help them access information or complete tasks. This is usually accomplished with speech recognition technology; think Apple’s Siri, Microsoft’s Cortana or Amazon’s Alexa. Most of the intelligent assistants that we are familiar with today are consumer facing and are somewhat general in the tasks they can complete. However, these applications are now making their way into more advanced customer service settings.
While there is certainly a space for these automated assistants in the enterprise realm, there is a debate as to whether this technology could fully replace a contact centre agent.
Automation is widely recognised as a valuable tool for organisations to route the customer to the correct agent. However, completely handing over the reins of customer management to a machine could to be a step too far for most businesses. Even the most advanced AI platforms only hold an IQ score equivalent to that of a four-year-old, and naturally, businesses are unlikely to entrust their customer service offering to a child.
The human touch
Automated processes are invaluable for speeding up laborious processes and completing monotonous customer service tasks. But as any customer service expert will tell you, the human touch is what elevates good service to an excellent experience for the customer. Simple tasks will no doubt be increasingly managed and completed using automation and AI-enabled agent support systems, whereas complex issues will still require the careful intervention of a human agent.
During a TED Talk on artificial intelligence, philosopher and technologist Nick Bostrom claimed that “machine intelligence is the last invention that humanity will ever need to make.” However, contact centre agents needn’t hang up their headsets just yet. Artificial intelligence won’t be replacing the call centre agent any time soon. The only guarantee is that the role of a call centre agent will continue to evolve — after all, the industrial revolution was only two seconds ago.