“Our young children and grandchildren will think it is completely natural to talk to machines that look at them and understand them,” says Eric Horvitz, a computer scientist at Microsoft’s research laboratory in a recent interview with the New York Times on speech recognition and medicine.
Horvitz has been working on a medical avatar project that uses artificial intelligence systems to listen and talk to patients in order to find what ails them and to recommend what to do. And naturally, thanks to natural language processing, they can translate between languages too.
“For decades, computer scientists have been pursuing artificial intelligence―the use of computers to simulate human thinking. But in recent years, rapid progress has been made in machines that can listen, speak, see, reason and learn, in their way. The prospect, according to scientists and economists, is not only that artificial intelligence will transform the way humans and machines communicate and collaborate, but will also eliminate millions of jobs, create many others and change the nature of work and daily routines.”
Meanwhile, translation software being tested by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency is fast enough to keep up with some simple conversations.
So, are expensive telephone interpreters on their way out? Sure, but I predict we’ll be among the last to leave the room to the computers. Translation is the final wrinkle for AI systems trying to navigate human relationships. Easy comes first. “Basic work that can be automated is in the bull’s-eye of both technology and globalization, and the rise of artificial intelligence just magnifies that reality,” says Erik Brynjolfsson, an economist at the Sloan School of Management at Erik Brynjolfsson.
The customer interaction is a logical place for AI to be applied in the call center business, but the first big advances are coming in the way artificial intelligence is used to manage traffic on networks. Real-time systems can adapt in real time to customer concerns before an agent even picks up the phone. And as the technology improves and becomes more widespread, we have become better as using it.
An interesting case study here. Panasonic designed a call center system to identify keywords so that an automated assistant could reply intelligently instead of having customers punch through such a dense call tree that 40% hung up in frustration. “Today, Panasonic resolves one million more customer problems a year with 1.6 million fewer total calls than five years ago. The cost of resolving a customer issue has declined by 50 percent.”