We may actually be closer than I thought to smart virtual agents that can perform complex customer service transactions. I recently watched a pretty amazing video of Interactions Corporation‘s virtual assistant Interactive Voice Response (IVR) system. I was impressed by how well the agent could understand the intent of the caller’s questions and requests. What really surprised me, though, was that the virtual agent could not only answer questions, but it could perform transactions too. Here’s a virtual agent that crossed over into the realm of true customer service rep. Who knew that this sort of advanced capability already existed?
If you’re interested in virtual agents and the future of IVR, you really need to watch this video from FinovateFall 2013. Finovate is a conference where companies showcase the latest technologies supporting financial institutions. The demo by Interactions Corporation is either one of the best rigged demos I’ve ever seen (and I guess that’s possible), or the company’s virtual agent technology goes way beyond what I thought was currently possible. There are also several audio demos available on the Interactions website.
Based on an article by Opus Research, the brains behind the Interactions smart virtual assistant are borrowed from AT&T WATSON(sm) speech and language engine. That’s right; it’s AT&T WATSON, not IBM Watson. Heh? Well, apparently AT&T named its speech processing technology WATSON a really long time ago and they’ve been using it in IVR systems ever since. They named the technology after Thomas A. Watson, the famous assistant of Alexander Graham Bell who’s name is forever memorialized in the silly utterance “Mr. Watson–come here–I want to see you.” IBM’s Watson is of course named after the first IBM President, Thomas J. Watson. So it seems there’s more than one Watson that’ll be honored by having some groundbreaking technology named after him. It does make things confusing though.
If the Interactions demo is any proof, AT&T’s WATSON seems to have come a long way. Will this technology, or others like it, become a standard feature of IVR systems and web-based virtual support agents? And what might the possibilities be if AT&T and IBM got their Watsons together?
I really like the idea of being able to call up a smart automated system that can quickly execute the transactions I need taken care of, such as booking me on a flight or transferring money from one bank account to another. Apparently the artificial intelligence exists to construct virtual assistants that can do these kinds of tasks and understand what we really want, even if we’re not that great at articulating it.