In a society where overqualified, but desperate for work individuals are forced to take low-paid jobs to make means, it’s rather humorous that the smartest computer in the world, IBM’s Watson, has now been tasked as a call-center agent.
Just a few years ago, IBM made the front page all over the world after its supercomputer “Watson” won in a two-round Jeopardy contest, aired in three episodes, against the two most famous, top-scouring human players. Now, the Watson artificial-intelligence software has been re-purposed to answer customer calls and offer custom advice and guidance according to their needs. Considering most of today’s tech support is provided by unmotivated employees who rely on scripts to solve their customers problems, a computer capable of semantically reading an inquiry and retrieving the best solution seems like a better fit.
“IBM Watson represents a bold new step into a new era of computing and has the potential to transform the way people and companies interact over the lifetime of their relationships. The unique combination of natural language processing, hypothesis generation & evaluation, and machine learning of IBM Watson is being applied to customer engagement,” reads a brochure touting the new Watson Engagement Advisor service.
Watson has had important adjustments made to it since it won Jeopardy. Back then, the original Watson was a question-and-answer machine — with each interaction a separate question and answer. Now, it can engage in active consumer dialogue, being capable of listening and responding to customer multiple follow-up questions, while still remembering what the previous questions were and how they relate to one another.
Watson is currently highly appealing to the banking sector, where the computer could easily tailor solutions to customers based on their financial situation. ANZ Bank and Nielsen have already signed with IBM as clients, and more are sure soon to follow in other industries as well. For instance, Watson is currently tested for use in the health-care industry, and while it might never replace doctors, it could quickly suggest treatment and medication based on a series of imputed symptoms. The customer-care market is a much more high-volume, and consequently high-paying field for IBM, which is why this is where the company is currently concentrating most of its Watson machine efforts.
The trend is rather clear though. Mechanical and repetitive physical tasks like those in an assembly line have long been replaced or are in the process of being replaced by robots, and soon office jobs that are also repetitive and dull in nature will be replaced by software. While for companies, this might spell an increase in efficiency and profits, if this transition isn’t made smoothly, the developed world could be faced with a massive influx of unemployed individuals, who weren’t offered the breathing space and time to repurpose their skills in a new line of work.
Tibi is a science journalist and co-founder of ZME Science. He writes mainly about emerging tech, physics, climate, and space. In his spare time, Tibi likes to make weird music on his computer and groom felines.