Gary Marcus recently wrote a piece in the New Yorker warning us to be wary of overhyping current AI technology. Marcus isn’t downplaying the potential benefits of solutions based on artificial intelligence. He’s also not debating the fact that AI has made important advancements in recent years. But Marcus admonishes journalists who suggest that we’ve cracked the code on replicating the human brain and creating human-level intelligence. We’re nowhere close to doing that, in Marcus’s opinion. As a cognitive scientist, he has credibility on the topic.
Marcus’s admonition of overly optimistic journalists is well taken. My blog is focused on virtual agents. The conversational abilities of today’s virtual agents, intelligent assistants, chatbots, or whatever we choose to call them, are still limited. To overhype the ability of these software agents could lead to disillusionment or, even worse, ineffective implementations. Companies that deploy virtual customer service agents need to understand their limitations. The best of today’s virtual agents can answer frequently asked questions or direct users to relevant web content, but they won’t replace a human agent when dealing with complex issues.
Providers of mobile intelligent assistants need to be cautious too about the promises they make to users. While these assistants can be extremely useful, suggesting they can keep us entertained with great conversation and clever jokes is bound to result in disappointment. The quick disillusionment that many users experienced with Siri stems, at least in part, from the media’s overhyping of the technology. That’s not to say that future generations of virtual assistants won’t become indispensable companions and advisors. My belief is that they will be. The technology just isn’t here quite yet.
Interestingly, Marcus wrote an article last October that warned about the dangerous possibilities of what might happen when AI really does live up to all the hype. But for the time being, we probably need to be more worried about overselling the technology then underestimating it.