Customer service is leaping into the digital age with virtual assistants, dubbed ‘chatbots’, now taking on more and more human qualities. Automated customer service is nothing new – consumers have been wrestling with pre-recorded phone menus for years. But the level of realism is rising rapidly, and messaging services run by chatbots are popping up on an increasing number of websites and platforms. The next evolution is to make those automated assistants appear human, which some enterprises—including the Australian Government—are already doing.
The role of chatbots in business
Social media giant Facebook was one of the first major companies to employ chatbots through its Messenger platform. As of early 2017, there were over 100,000 bots operating on Messenger.
This functionality allows for customer support without the need to expend resources on real humans while also slashing wait times that come with call centres and manned chat programs.
It also means support is available 24/7 and provides a measured level of support, which is often not the case with humans, who are, after all, driven by emotion. Chatbots also cut down on errors, as repetition can lead to mistakes from human operators.
Leading Australian actor becomes voice of the NDIS
The Federal Government’s National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) is being rolled out across the country, which in turn means there are thousands of people with questions on its availability, services and processes. This led the government to make the bold decision to create a virtual assistant in the form of ‘Nadia’, which is voiced by homegrown Academy Award winner Cate Blanchett.
Nadia was created by New Zealand artificial intelligence expert Mark Sagar, who is also an Oscar winner for his computer generation in movies like Avatar, King Kong and Spider-Man 2. And it was created with cognitive technology developed by the IBM Watson team, with more than 20 hours of dialogue recorded by Blanchett.
Nadia is a fully animated, human looking avatar that responds through voice to customer questions. It is currently in the trial phase, with the second stage of her rollout expected to happen this year.
Making chatbots more ‘human’
Nadia is just one example of a chatbot taking on incredible human characteristics to engage customers and clients. Eviebot is one of the earlier examples, launched a decade ago and able to speak French, German, Polish, Turkish, and English. Evie exists on a website where anyone can log on and ‘chat’ with her to experience artificial intelligence, with recordings of those conversations becoming a trend on YouTube.
UK bank NatWest is planning on launching their own ‘human’ virtual assistant soon, named Cora, and there are likely going to be plenty more on the horizon. AI company Soul Machines is one enterprise working on the next generation of interactive, conversational chatbots, and chief business officer Greg Cross said putting humanity in the machine would one day be the norm.
“We actually believe that, in time, all assistants will need to have a human face, because as humans, we are programmed at a DNA level to want to be able to look at someone when they are talking to us,” he said.
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