The march of AI or artificial intelligence is truly upon us, highlighted by the fact that as I type, my keyboard is predicting what I am going to type next, and is often correct. Gosh, so predictable!
At an extremely interesting client presentation recently, fund managers from the Sanlam Artificial Intelligence fund explained to us that “Things that people called ‘pipe dreams’ when the fund was launched in 2017 are now happening. The changes have been utterly extraordinary. What was impossible is now possible.”
A fascinating timeline showed how algorithms have achieved superhuman levels in chess and other games such as Go in a very short space of time, and how AI platforms were teaching themsleves to walk, create their own languages and understand human vocabulary at an increasingly exponential speed.
There’s no doubt that changes brought by AI within healthcare, agriculture, transport (to mention a very few) are literally saving lives and may help to save the planet.
However, the very night after this event, I was reminded about the limits of AI in the arena of customer service. One area where chatbots and robots haven’t quite nailed the human touch yet.
My teenage daughter and her friend had arrived at a hotel in Portugal late at night, to be told that their room booking had been cancelled by the online booking service they’d used months earlier. This was human error (or greed) on the bookings service part, no robots at fault there. However, her booking was confirmed so a bit of a disagreement ensued but as the hotel was now full, she needed to contact them as they now had nowhere to stay. So then she (in Portugal) and I (in London) tried to communicate with the bookings company to get the issue sorted. We both experienced the same fate…
The phonecall was answered clearly by a robot – who requested the confirmation number. That was easily done. There then ensued some fake typing noise, I suppose to suggest that someone was actually typing into a computer to check something out, before a robotic voice informed that they had been waiting too long for our information and would have to end the phone call. At gone midnight – and having gone through this process twice I was definitely not impressed. The situation was not resolved until the following day – and took human intervention via twitter direct messaging to sort out.
While AI is clearly the future, companies should beware that they are not jeopardising their hard-won reputations for short-term cost savings. The message is that the nuances of real life problems often need to be resolved by humans; and human customers are not happy when they have to battle with companies’ attempts to deflect issues to our robot brethren, before they are quite ready.