22 February 2018

Your own personal virtual assistant will soon join you in the office

A virtual assistant to speak to, that understands you and that can perform tasks for you just by voice commands. Until recently, this was only possible in movies such as Iron Man in which Jarvis serves as the digital version of a personal assistant. All of the big tech organisations, such as Google (Assistant), Amazon (Alexa), Apple (Siri) and Microsoft (Cortana) are developing their own versions, but those are not yet as sophisticated as Jarvis. What will it take for virtual assistants to develop into tools that show real value? Moreover, how will real estate and facility managers benefit from them?

Webinar - ‘Internet of Things: from buzzword to opportunity'

For the last few years, the ‘Internet of Things’ and ‘Smart Buildings’ have both been buzzwords on everyone’s lips. Within the field of Facility and Real Estate Management, the discussion focuses on how to make the workplace more cost efficient, effective, and customer-oriented. 

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A chatbot that is intelligent enough to function as a personal assistant seems like science fiction, but several developments show that humanity is getting closer to developing artificial intelligence that can perform autonomously. In recent news, we saw that AlphaGo, Google's chess bot, was able to teach itself chess and beat the best player in the world within just a couple of hours. This development cannot be ignored, because it shows that artificial intelligence is improving quite rapidly. The question is, is this a good development or should we be scared?

Getting your own personal assistant

Although there are some major concerns on privacy or the destructive nature of artificial intelligence, I would rather focus on the possibilities of this artificial intelligence. From my perspective, this should be perceived as something wonderful with enormous potential. Not only in our daily lives at home, where virtual assistants support with managing light, temperature and music, but also in our working environment. These chatbots have the potential to transform into our own digital, personal assistant just by speaking to them.

Microsoft presented the voice recognition functionality in their Cortana technology as being equal to a human's voice recognition. This means that the tool is as good as humans in recognising voice commands. When this ability is combined with artificial intelligence, the tool will be able to understand what is said and can perform tasks based on these voice commands. That would mean that you can talk to a bot, that it will understand you and that it can perform a task without needing manual input. It can fill in paperwork automatically, it can manage an agenda and show alerts when action is needed and it can automatically sort your e-mail inbox. How convenient does that sound?

These bots will take less time to fulfill administrative tasks, reduce the amount of errors and increase productivity. For employees in the office, these advantages are valuable because speed, results and efficiency are important in modern business.

Contributing to an optimal office environment

The next step is that these bots can be expanded with more intelligence from IoT sensor data. What if, for instance, this bot can be enriched with personal data about health or work environment preferences? The bots will be able to give continuous feedback on the health of the employee or the working environment. It could share advice on the use of specific rooms with more light or oxygen, tell you to take a break from work or give specific nutritional advice to make you feel better. This advice is valuable, because it actually helps employees to feel better and therefore contributes to the commitment, empowerment and fulfillment of the employee – creating an optimal office environment.

What do you think about it?

The technology to use chatbots as virtual assistants will be ready soon, but is humanity ready to use them? Just think about your own daily life and the possibilities for these bots. Does it sound interesting to you or does it make you feel uncomfortable? Would you actually ask a digital assistant to make a reservation for a meeting room? Would you ask the digital assistant to order catering? Would it be useful if the digital assistant could adjust the light or temperature automatically, based on your location in the office?

I think there are a lot of interesting opportunities to improve our working experience, but this also means that use cases need to be developed that help employees to get used to working with these bots. What are the use cases that add value to your organisation?

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