IPsoft CEO Chetan Dube and professor Chris Manning of Stanford University
IPsoft CEO Chetan Dube and Stanford University professor Chris Manning discussing the potentials of digital employees PHOTO: IPsoft

Some well known and respected thinkers on the Future of Work took the stage at IPsoft's Digital Workforce Summit in New York City this week to discuss the digital workforce — but another, lesser-known figure stole the limelight. 

Speakers included Oxford University professor and "Superintelligence" author Nick Bostrom, Babson College professor and "Only Humans Need Apply" co-author Thomas Davenport, Deloitte CTO Bill Briggs, as well as executives from Becton Dickinson, Intercontinental Hotels and Electronic Arts among others.

But the clear star of the Summit was Amelia, a "digital employee" created and trained by the conference's host, digital labor provider IPsoft. 

According to IPsoft and those who have used the artificial intelligence (AI) platform, Amelia is able to understand and process language (NLP), sense and react to human emotion, recognize the intent of the humans who interface with it, learn and build workflows, and leverage data in business systems like Oracle and SAP to resolve and answer user and customer questions and issues.

Amelia also has "episodic memory," big data crunching and predictive analytics capabilities and can even interact as a coworker in third party apps like Facebook, Slack and Amazon Echo.

It’s especially noteworthy that the platform can do all of this at scale, noted Allan Andersen, executive director of enterprise solutions, IPsoft. Not only that, but unlike Siri, OK Google or chatbots, “Amelia is not an FAQ engine, she can ingest standard operation procedures (SOP) and complete tasks for you end-to-end," he explained.

Amelia at Work

Take new employee onboarding or insurance enrollment. Andersen said Amelia can complete the process end-to-end and is used widely enough that IPsoft's platform usage significantly increases during benefit enrollment periods.

Amelia is also being used as a human resources staffer at one of IPsoft's customers, fielding employee questions like "how many sick days do I have left?" Instead of simply answering "three," Amelia can ask the employee if he is feeling ill, say, "I am sorry," if he says "yes" and remind him that last year he left personal and vacation days on the table that couldn't be carried over.

The same kind of intelligence can be used to potentially sell services, Jonathan Crane, Chief Commercial Officer IPsoft told CMSWire. Take the case of someone who calls the bank every Friday to see if his employer has transferred his pay into his account before he goes grocery shopping. Amelia can offer him overdraft protection to help reduce his anxiety. If he says yes, the platform can enroll him immediately over the channel of the customer’s choosing.

“This is an example of how episodic memory can be used," said Crane.

Augmented Intelligence vs. Artificial Intelligence

But much as it might seem as if IPsoft is pitching Amelia to replace workers, Crane said it's better viewed as an augment, the idea being that Amelia fields the routine calls, monitors conversations and escalates to humans when they can add value.

This can be especially effective when combined with predictive analytics to prevent customer churn, according to Crane.

Davenport told the summit attendees it was unlikely artificial intelligence will replace workers any time soon, noting that businesses will likely go the route of augmented intelligence (human plus machine) as opposed to straight artificial intelligence.

It's an idea that Crane and Andersen were willing to back, despite numerous claims by others at the Summit that AI can already do much of low-skilled employees work, but with greater consistency.

"Amelia will free up humans from mundane, tactical, repetitive tasks and allow them to do more interesting, rewarding work that allows them to add more value," Crane told CMSWire.

An AI Debutante Ball

Why haven't we heard much about IPsoft before now, CMSWire asked Crane and Andersen.

"We've been operating in stealth," Andersen joked, explaining that IPsoft has been providing virtual engineers to IT departments for more than 15 years. These "engineers" successfully fix system problems with little or no human intervention.

IPsoft released the first version of Amelia at the end of 2014 and though its NLP abilities were strong, it was "pretty rigid," according to Andersen. The second version of Amelia came out in late 2015 with an enhanced UI, episodic memory, integrations with Alexa, Echo, Facebook and more. Amelia's latest version was released at the Summit and the official coming out party was held before the press and analysts the day before.

Were they impressed?

"IPsoft has historically had strengths in robotic process automation. Version three of Amelia has made progress in NLP and automated learning such that it can be far more subtle in understanding customer questions and dynamic and adaptive in resolving issues than typical chatbots, IVR and rules-based support workflows," Constellation Research analyst Doug Henschen told CMSWire. He further noted two of the company's customers — SEB, a Swedish bank, and Electronic Arts, the gaming company — offered "compelling accounts" of their production deployments of Amelia at the event.