Meet your new AI colleagues

A conversation with IPsoft exec Allan Andersen

human ai collaboration

Could one of your future colleagues be a bot? The odds of that are pretty good. By 2022, 1 in 5 workers engaged in mostly non-routine tasks will rely on AI to do their jobs, according to Gartner. These digital workers won’t just handle routine tasks like giving directions and scheduling meetings. They will play collaborative roles on projects, advise on critical decisions, and guide workers on how to do their jobs better.

Enterprise-grade products like IPsoft’s Amelia, Microsoft’s Cortana Skills Kit for Enterprise, Oracle Digital Assistant, and ServiceNow Virtual Agent promise to change the relationship between people and machines at work. Recently, Workflow sat down with Allan Andersen, global director of enterprise solutions at IPsoft, to discuss the future of AI-powered assistants in the workplace.

Do digital colleagues “work” the same way a human employee does?

The goal is for digital colleagues to work with the same systems that employees do, just like a human would. What we’re seeing more and more is AI taking over different parts of the job function where it makes sense. In the hybrid workforce, we’re seeing humans solving part of the problem and AI solving part of it. And AI like Amelia can actually learn from what humans are doing to solve it.

What does human-AI collaboration look like in practice?

One of the newer solutions that we’re working on internally is AI as co-pilot. That’s where an AI agent assists a human worker by monitoring a conversation and making suggestions.

In a call center, an AI agent may have the first interaction with the customer, but then she realizes that a human agent needs to get involved. While the chat with a live agent is happening, she listens and understands what may be the best thing to say next, then that appears on the employee’s screen as a suggestion.

Or, conversely, a human agent may realize, “Oh, this person wants to return merchandise because they don’t like the color.” The human knows that the AI can handle that flawlessly, so he basically drags the AI agent into the conversation and it takes over.

How do digital and human colleagues and interact today?

AI is actually training new employees as they get rolled into jobs. We have what we call a “whisper function” where a new employee can reach out to Amelia and say, “I have this situation. How do I deal with it?” Amelia may ask them a couple of clarifying questions to narrow it down, and then provide the answer.

Eventually, do you see AI having the ability to manage a team?

Early on, there was sort of an insulting term called “robo-managers.” It implied you were being managed by these virtual assistants. We’re looking more at these things as guidance. In normal life, you get into your car and she tells you when to turn and when to change direction. She’s not controlling how you’re driving. Once we get away from these terms that have negative connotations, people will actually realize how helpful these things are.

In the beginning, when people start working with co-working AIs, they’re very apprehensive. They say, “I don’t want to be guided.” Once they find out how helpful AIs can be, they appreciate them. Then they can add human nuances to it, which can be better understanding emotions, better understanding the business aspects of it. They can actually add more of their own value to those processes.

Will collaborating with AI colleagues require people to make adjustments?

Definitely. There will be some need for acclimation, and explaining what the technology is going to be doing, and new types of job functions and roles. If you’re in the tech space right now, the number of people needed to do simple stuff is going to decline.

But there will be new roles available to people. There’s going to be a need for more subject matter experts. Some people are going to have new roles where they’re actually managing this technology. Eventually people will get quite comfortable with it. It will enhance their work environments. It will make people more efficient.

What advice do you have for CIOs and CTOs?

Look at your current workforce and figure out who you can train in newer technologies like IT process automation or robotic process automation. They’re going to be moved up the value chain from rote manual work.

It’s also about making sure that people understand where you want to go as a company. This technology is not about better, faster, cheaper. If it was, then that would be simple to implement, right? You want to avoid unnecessarily getting stuck in just doing the same thing that you were doing, but using a better, smarter technology to do it.

Sometimes you actually have to go in and look at your processes. Are they still applicable for how the new world operates? They can be asking those questions now, because we’re definitely seeing lots of business functions where digital colleagues can start having an impact today.