With some new technology, you can never imagine how much you might need it until you can suddenly no longer live without it. Think of the internet. Or mobile phones. Or laptop computers. If you’re old enough to remember life without them you might also recall shrugging your shoulders when they first emerged.
Take voice assistants. You may have already hooked up your appliances to Google Home or spent hours amusing yourself by getting Alexa to say lines from Star Wars, but you might find it hard to imagine a talking speaker becoming as fundamental to your existence as your iPhone.
And yet your polite and softly spoken AI chum may soon become indispensable – and not just in the home. A survey this year of 500 IT professionals in North America and Europe found that 29 per cent of organisations had already implemented or planned to implement “one or more AI chatbots [or] intelligent assistants for work-related tasks”. Forty percent of large firms expect to do so by the end of next year.
In a blog post after the the November 2017 launch of its Alexa for Business product, Amazon CTO Werner Vogels described voice as a “game changer”, adding that “the next generation of corporate systems and applications will be built using conversational interfaces”.
In other words, your voice assistant might soon be moving out of your living room, off your phone and into your office. Here are four ways that Siri and friends might help you and your colleagues get more out of your work days.
“Alexa, book a meeting room for 11am.”
Administrative and organisational tasks – booking meetings, logging in and starting video conferences, printing documents, managing expense claims, controlling devices, changing the office temperature – can consume as much as 50 per cent of your day. In future, simple voice commands may be all you need to free yourself from some mundane tasks.
“Cortana, project this year’s sales based on last year’s results.”
Finding the right business information when you want it remains a challenge in many workplaces. Voice-operated AI presents a possible solution, potentially being able to surface data quickly and perform real-time analysis. One firm, Voicera, is even working on technology that listens to a meeting and automatically locates and displays the most relevant data for participants.
“Siri, take meeting notes and send a transcript to all participants.”
Writing emails and taking meeting minutes are among the biggest workplace time-sucks. But miscommunicating, or failing to communicate, can also be costly, impacting everything from staff morale to strategic direction. The “natural language processing” technology used by voice assistants can convert the spoken word into text, potentially improving the accuracy and effectiveness of communication.
“Hello Google, activate the media room and load my presentation file.”
Workplaces are increasingly configured to accommodate individuals’ needs, but voice assistants could help employees who have difficulty manually operating certain devices – multimedia, factory equipment – do their jobs more easily. For people with disabilities it could even open up employment opportunities from which they would have otherwise been excluded.
Of course no new technology is without drawbacks. There have been all kinds of stories about users inadvertently activating their home assistants – it’s hard to say what kind of unintended consequences could arise when Alexa is being bossed around by hundreds of people at once.
And employee privacy is a concern: it’s already pretty easy for employers to snoop on employees in Australia; without proper protections your interactions with voice assistants could be just one more source of data about you.
Regardless, before long you’ll be trying to remember what work was like before voice assistants came along, and wondering how you even managed to do your job without them.
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