Today VocalWare published a short piece on a new digital receptionist by the UK company MoneyPenny. Presumably the company name is a reference to the dry-witted and ever capable assistant of James Bond legend. MoneyPenny’s digital receptionist product is called Penelope and it’s not really a virtual agent. It’s more of a clever automated call routing service.
Reading through the description of how Penelope works, it sounds a lot like RingCentral or other call routing services. What caught my eye was the fact that Penelope is equipped with voice recognition that lets callers ask for specific people by name. So if you’re a small company with several employees, a caller could ask Penelope to connect him or her to “Melissa” and the digital assistant would route the call to Melissa, assuming that she’s available.
This sort of technology seems to me to be where intelligent virtual agents are headed. If voice recognition, natural language processing, and question answering systems continue to develop at the current rapid pace, we might soon have Interactive Voice Response (IVR) systems that can truly think and act. What if you just found out your flight had been canceled and you could call the airline and talk to a digital representative that was able to rebook you on the next flight?
How far away are we from that scenario becoming a reality? We have virtual agents that can understand questions and context and can carry on basic conversations. We have software than can perform transactions. It doesn’t seem a stretch to think that all of these capabilities, and more to come, will be rolled into capable digital assistants sometime within this decade. What that means for the humans who are currently paid to perform such functions remains to be seen. We can hope that new, more meaningful and nuanced jobs open up for humans as the virtual agents become the first level of support for all incoming calls.