How AI can empower both employees and consumers

While it looms on the horizon, many are worried that the rise of artificial intelligence will significantly disrupt the job market and remove opportunities for workers. Nithi Vivatrat, founder of Intellei, isn’t so convinced. Speaking with What’s Working in Washington, Vivatrat explained how artificial intelligence can work to empower workers and their interactions with customers.

ABERMAN: Well, you were very involved in another successful companies here. You’ve got this new one going: Intellei. Tell me a little bit about it.

VIVATRAT: Intellei uses A.I. to help organizations have one-on-one conversations with their audiences. For example, if you’re a consumer, you might be asking a company a question, and you want a convenient way of asking them. It might be in the middle of the night. There’s no one to talk to on the phone, so you might text them, and you want to get an answer immediately. You might be browsing a Web site, and you have a specific question about a product there. You just want to type in a question, and have an answer immediately provided to you.

So, we use A.I. to help organizations provide answers, and communicate with their audiences, without needing to add a lot of staff to be waiting there all day to answer these questions from consumers. We also use A.I. to help keep that dialogue going. So, once you’ve have a dialogue going with someone, you don’t want it to stop, right? You want to continue building a relationship with someone, and those relationships are built through ongoing conversations.

So, using A.I., we, without needing a lot of human staff, can help automatically reach out to people to ask, hey, do you have any any more questions, or there’s this piece of news that we thought you might find interesting, and keep a personal conversation going on indefinitely.

ABERMAN: I find that fascinating, from the standpoint of the personal conversation. We tend to think about personal conversations as occurring with other human beings. How does this technology actually work in the wild? What are the rules of the road that are developing for consumer expectations about when they’re speaking with software or when they’re speaking with humans?

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VIVATRAT: So, we think that consumers are getting accustomed to interacting with software. We use Web sites all the time. We use apps all the time, even when we call into a call center. The first few questions when you make contact are usually guiding you, it is some sort of software providing that part of the experience before you talk to a human. So, we think that people are getting used to interacting with software as long as it’s useful. So, we’ve all dealt with terrible phone trees, where you press 1 for this, press 2 for this. And it’s a terrible experience.

But we think that, when software can be useful, and it’s personalized, and it meets our needs very quickly and efficiently, we have no problem with it. So, the same goes for any kind of conversation you’re having with A.I., whether it’s through text messaging, or through Facebook Messenger, or it’s in a web chat. As long as it can react to me, and be personalized, then we think it’s useful. Therefore from a design perspective, we don’t like to fool consumers or the audience that they’re talking to a human. We think, hey, let’s treat people as the smart people that they are, and just say this is an A.I.-powered agent.

This is a chatbot, is another term that you might use. Let me do the best that I can to help you. That’s what the software says, and we provide ways that, if someone is not getting the help they need, or they would prefer to talk to a human, that we then connect them to a human operator. But by having AI be the first line of defense, we believe that we can actually provide a better level of customer service to the consumer in a very cost efficient way for the organization

ABERMAN: As we’re talking about A.I., and and how you’re applying it in your company, it makes me think about people who talk about how A.I. is going to substitute for people’s jobs or create new jobs. Sounds to me like as you’re applying A.I., this is additive, and it would make human employees more effective, right?

VIVATRAT: So, that is our philosophy. We tend to work with organizations, and almost all organizations, have a finite level of staff. Our job is not to use A.I. to replace humans, but is to allow the humans to focus on the things which are most important. So, in, let’s say customer support, there’s always a set of tasks which are very repetitive. In the IT world, it could be, let’s say, password resets. That’s not a good use of time for the humans.

So if A.I. and chatbots and software can help automate that, and have those experiences be very quick and efficient for the consumer, as well as cost effective for the organization, that allows the human staff to focus on the most difficult tasks and the most creative tasks. So, yeah, there is a lot of talk about A.I. threatening jobs, and I think it is the reality that technology can always be a threat to a certain category of jobs, but hopefully, and in the long run, that will actually allow the human to spend time on things which are most creative and additive to society.

ABERMAN: I think that there are many people who are coming into that view, and it is going to be a challenge for educational system to prepare people to work with A.I., which makes me ask as a last question, Nithi: as we look at the region, it seems that there’s a lot of data analytics, there’s a lot of talent that springs forth, or surrounds A.I. and machine learning. How is this region positioned to be a leader in this industry?

VIVATRAT: Because of the depth of resources in this area, which are focused on solving big problems. Whether it’s problems relating to a national defense, or telecommunications. There’s a lot of strength and technology in this region. Obviously, a lot of those problems are being solved by Big Data, by artificial intelligence, and therefore, we have deep competencies here. Of course, there are other parts of the country which have deep depth in artificial intelligence.

But I think this region is well suited for it. I especially think because we have opportunity here to use A.I. to solve the types of problems I was talking about. Let’s say, for example, citizen service is an area where obviously, when we can use A.I. to make government more efficient and and a better experience for its citizens, that’s a great opportunity. And I think that people in this region have both the domain knowledge as well as the technical skills to focus on that problem.

ABERMAN: Nithi, thanks a lot for taking the time to be with us today. That was Nithi Vivatrat, the founder of Intellei.

VIVATRAT: Thank you for having me.

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