Your cognitive assistant would like to get to know you

Posted by Rajeev Ronanki, on November 30, 2016

You’ve heard pundits predict that artificial intelligence (AI) will rule the world someday, right? Well, until that time comes, it appears that AI systems—in the form of cognitive assistants—will be more than happy to help us. Cognitive assistants that interact with and perform tasks for people are among the fastest-growing AI applications today.

So far, most cognitive assistants are used to help consumers by setting wakeup alarms, adjusting thermostats, recommending movies. Soon, though, they’ll transform businesses, providing access to complex information and performing digital tasks like opening a bank account, admitting hospital patients, and making product and service recommendations. They’ll even understand and act on the emotional content of a conversation. Think HAL in 2001: A Space Odyssey: “Look Dave, I can see you’re really upset about this.”

Customer service has many promising opportunities for cognitive assistants in areas like billing, account assistance, and technical support. Sure, they could put some jobs at risk, but I think it’s more likely they will create opportunities for employees to develop new skills, improve performance over time, and position themselves for better jobs.

Supply chains are another ripe area. Cognitive assistants could check whether ordered products have arrived and the status of payments. They could help warehouse workers get detailed information on products they’re looking for and having trouble finding.

There are even intriguing possibilities in business process outsourcing (BPO). Some BPO providers are already planning cognitive assistant offerings. They may be surprise when their customers have ideas of their own. For example, a company that has previously outsourced its call center operations could decide to bring them back in house, using a small staff and a coterie of cognitive assistants to deliver customer care.

All of this will likely be possible because cognitive assistant technologies build on decades of research in natural language understanding and generation, semantic decomposition, and machine and deep learning. AI applications such as advanced medical treatments might be difficult to implement in the near term, but we’ll continue to see a whole range of cognitive assistants entering the mainstream through iterative interactions with humans in other areas.

This doesn’t mean it will all be easy. For example, vendor-offered cognitive assistant systems will need to be trained for specific tasks, a potentially complex process. Yet while rollout is sure to bring surprises and disappointments, the potential for cognitive assistants to improve how humans interact with businesses is too great to ignore.

Consider this: rather than fearing AI machines and how they might take over our lives, we just may end up preferring them to humans because of their vast knowledge, ability to grasp detailed contextual factors, and capacity to take care of business without becoming upset or befuddled. Who wouldn’t want that kind of assistant?

Is your organization considering the possibilities of cognitive assistants? Let me hear from you.

Rajeev has more than 20 years of healthcare and information technology experience. He leads Deloitte Consulting LLP’s cognitive computing and healthcare innovation practices, focused on implementing cognitive solutions for personalized consumer engagement, intelligent automation, and predictive analytics. He is at the forefront of some of the most strategic initiatives on cognitive computing, analytics, and big data, and is the author of several key publications on these topics.


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