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Meet the virtual woman who may take your job

Patrick Thibodeau | Oct. 12, 2015
Cognitive systems are becoming a part of the workforce.

screen shot 2015 10 09 at 3.40.11 pm
Amelia 2.0 can understand things in context and engage with the listener, according to its maker, IPsoft. Credit: IPsoft

IPsoft's Amelia is more interesting than Apple's Siri. Amelia's language is expressive. Her facial expressions and gestures are generated on the fly. Siri can show wit to an oddball question, but Amelia aims for empathy.

Amelia is IPsoft's artificial intelligence platform. It has an ability to understand things in context and engage with the listener. Most importantly, Amelia is real enough to take your job.

The system learns by observing interactions between a user and service agents. At one media client, IPsoft claims, Amelia takes 64% of its calls, and has reduced "knowledge worker" staffing from 76 to 32.

The 2.0 version of Amelia was introduced at Gartner's Symposium IT/xpo, and among those watching the presentation was Mike Strenge, an infrastructure and operations manager at a financial services firm he didn't want identified.

Here's a sample of Amelia 2.0.

"I am blown away," said Strenge, following the demonstration. He's not convinced Amelia has emotional responses, "but I think we're getting there. It's a new technology that's going to advance, advance and advance," he said.

Cognitive system vendors, such as IPsoft, concentrate on automating sophisticated non-routine occupations, which can include financial analysts, insurance underwriters, tax preparers, managers, programmers and other problem-solving jobs.

This next wave of automation may be as consequential as the impact of automation was on routine work. In 1991, routine employment, meaning repetitive, rule-based tasks both manual and cognitive, such as working in a factory, made up 58% of the U.S. workforce, but by 2011 had declined to 44%.

Meanwhile, non-routine cognitive employment increased from 29% of the workforce in 1991 to 39% in 2011, according to Gartner analyst Ken McGee, in a conference presentation.

changes in workforce composition
Changes in workforce composition from 1991 to 2011. Click on image to enlarge. Credit: Gartner

"Where are all the people who used to work in factories?" asked McGee, or the word-processing typing pool?

Next on the list of automation opportunities is the growing area of non-routine cognitive work. "That's why smart machines are the hot topic right now," he said.

It's also why Gartner believes robotic bosses or managers are on the way, and why 20% of all business content will soon be generated by machines.

Vendors argue that automation will create better jobs that require more skills. The unanswered question is whether increasingly sophisticated automation will leave the economy with fewer jobs.

"Wherever a human is servicing on the basis of standard operating procedure, cognitive agents are doing it, and can do it better," said Chetan Dube, the president and CEO of IPsoft, and a former math professor at New York University, in an interview.


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