Could Self-Learning Robots Replace The Human Element Of Call Centers? IPsoft Thinks So

Ladies and gentlemen, meet Amelia. Developed by New York-based artificial intelligence firm IPSoft, Amelia is a virtual engineer designed to mimic the way a human engineer works. It can answer technical questions, it can work out problems through trial and error and - most importantly - it's capable of learning.

Amelia's soft commercial launch is slated to take place two months from now, where it will serve a number of IPsoft clients in the financial services industry. There, it will take over a large portion of the repetitive work currently being carried out by human employees. Assuming things take off at those firms, it plans to roll out Amelia to its five hundred-odd clients by year's end. 

Amelia is capable of working in ten different languages, and according to IPSoft, could end up cutting costs by as much as 75%, with far fewer people required to work in call centers due to her presence. Less people forced to work a soul-crushing job dealing with poorly-designed systems and irate customers? That seems like a win to me. 

Now, it's worth noting that the software platform on which Amelia is based has been around for quite some time. It was originally designed back in 1998 by former New York University Mathematics professor Chetan Dube

To be fair, the software platform on which Amelia is based has already been around for quite some time - it was designed back in 1998 by former New York University Mathematics professor Chetan Dube. Back then, IPsoft primarily utilized the application to manage computer networks. Naturally, Amelia has evolved a great deal since then - if it can do even half of what IPsoft claims, it could completely shut down much of the human element of an industry which currently pulls in around $400 billion US a year.

Of course, there's no guarantee Amelia will be able to accomplish what they claim - and not everyone is convinced she's the miracle machine IPsoft claims. BPO pioneer Raman Roy, for example, believes that there will always need to be a human element to his field; there are some things that computers simply cannot do. In some cases, introducing AI can actually increase the amount of work for the human side of things. 

"United Airlines is now largely automated, and their outsourcing increased after they put in the automation," he explained to ZDNet. "As of today, machines can replace only the basic element-level one calls (dealing with simple questions like, 'What is my credit card balance?'). The moment you get a more sophisticated call, you'll find you need people to do that complicated interaction."

Personally, I feel as though Roy isn't really seen the whole picture. Yeah, machines aren't quite at the point where they're capable of replacing humans yet. But if you look at how much progress they've made in only the past two decades, it's not much of a stretch to think that in the next twenty to forty years, we'll have machines that are perfectly capable of addressing even the most complicated of questions.

IPsoft believes that Amelia could completely destroy the BPO industry. Maybe they're right, and maybe they're wrong. Either way, automation is a powerful technology - if it doesn't replace call centers now, I've little doubt that it will somewhere down the line.