The Robots Are Coming – or Are They?

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Whenever people get asked to come up with their vision of the future, a few themes crop up again and again. Flying cars, hoverboards (the real kind, not the wheeled, self-righting ones that don’t hover and occasionally burst into flames) and virtual reality are all popular ideas.

But what people really seem to want is functioning robots. We’ve had a fascination with artificial intelligence since the earliest days of computing, which shows no sign of going away any time soon, if HBO’s new big-budget show Westworld is any indication. But in fact, this future may be a lot closer than many people realise.

Okay, I know we’re still a way off fully functional, walking and talking robots that hide among us, but turning to artificial intelligence to help us with everyday tasks is already a familiar activity for many (see Apple’s Siri)- and it’s expected to be a trend that’s increasingly seen in the customer service sector.

The rise of the robot agent?

It’s not just me saying this. For instance, a recent study from Forrester Research named artificial intelligence and intelligent agents as two of its top five technologies that have the potential to totally transform the tech world by 2021. In particular, it highlighted customers service as a key sector that will be impacted by this.

One reason for this is that how we interact with services is changing. While most of us probably aren’t ready to have an actual conversation on the phone with a robot, we have a lot more options available to us these days when we want to get in touch with a company – and some of them are especially well-suited for bots.

I’m thinking particularly about messaging apps. We’ve seen recently how some firms have enthusiastically embraced tools like Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp so they can be where their customers are, and for many businesses, this is where they’ll first dip their toes into the water of AI and bots.

With more than three billion users around the world, Forrester noted that messaging apps will also often be consumers’ first experience with AI. It added that these apps will “collide” with AI, offering “a shift toward new conversation interfaces”.

Is the world ready?

But hold on a minute. While some companies might be seduced by the promise of lower agent costs and better efficiency that chatbots can provide, as users won’t have to wait for a human operator to become available, are we sure this is really what consumers want at the present time?

I believe that while this technology really does hold a lot of promise for the future, there are still big question marks about whether it’s close to being ready for primetime. In order to work, chatbots and robot agents need to have a deep understanding about what they’re being asked.

One area that needs to be particularly wary of this is the financial services sector, something that was highlighted in a separate report released by Forrester in September. It warned that while sectors such as retail and communications have seen some success with AI, for areas like banking, it’s a much bigger challenge.

Still the future…for now

Forrester analyst Peter Wannemacher highlighted two key factors that could pose problems for the banking sector. Firstly, he noted that the level of customer experience provided by bots isn’t yet on a par with what human agents can provide.

The report found that while many of the human–robot interactions it looked at went smoothly, in around a third of cases, the AI wasn’t able to complete the customer’s request, or offered a clunky experience.

The second factor Forrester flagged up was that the stakes are much higher in financial services than areas like retail – and consequently, customers are much less forgiving of mistakes.

Certainly, if I knew I only had a two in three chance of getting what I wanted, I wouldn’t be too thrilled and I’d think twice about using it. So this is something that’s clearly got to improve before people can feel comfortable dealing with robots – particularly when it comes to something as important as our finances.

The good news, though, is that the technology will improve – and is already doing so at an impressive rate. Over the next two or three years, we can expect it to be ready for use across all industries, including sensitive sectors like financial services.

Author: Guest Author

Published On: 18th Oct 2016 - Last modified: 22nd Jan 2018
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