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AI and Chatbots: The Threat Looming Over Customer Service Jobs

AI has always been looked at with suspicion and fear. Most of the sci-fi movies have a storyline where robots assist humans at the beginning and then gradually become evil and take over the human race once they gain emotional intelligence and feelings. The looming fear of AI replacing humans in almost all fields is present, thus creating resistance to the adoption of artificial intelligence and robotics. But is it possible in reality? Can AI and robots displace the jobs done by humans?

According to a Bloomberg report, the Asian Development Bank predicts that by 2030, AI and similar technologies could displace 286,000 workers, or almost a quarter of the people in the Philippine outsourcing industry today, though the bank states that productivity gains may create other jobs. Several reports reveal that the Philippines’ call centre industry, which generates USD 25 billion a year and employs around 1.3 million people were hit drastically by the pandemic-induced lockdown.

Chatbots Taking over the Human Voices

AI is considered a significant catalyst of digitization and automation across industries. The Covid-19 pandemic accelerated the adoption of automation which otherwise would have taken a long time to spread its wings. Considering the advantages of AI-powered chatbots in a call centre, it cannot be ignored very easily and hence is vastly adopted in organizations.

Chatbots play a vital role in customer interaction and assistance. Many call centres and organizations have adopted conversational software agents like bots to enhance user experience. These chatbots use natural language processing and AI to listen to the customer, understand, and interpret it to provide solutions. However, we have still not reached the stage where chatbots and AI can understand human emotions and converse with emotional intelligence.

The initial impact of chatbots and automation would take over repetitive customer interactions and queries by eliminating some jobs. These human employees can be transported to a higher level task that needs human intelligence and reasoning. The big blow on the Philippine call centre industry is because of its high dependency on human employees for basic call centre tasks like inquiries. The Nikkei Asia report quotes Shivaji Das, MD at APAC and partner at Frost and Sullivan who reveals that basic call centre services make up 50-60% of customer contact operations in the Philippines.

How Threatening is the Situation?

Although reports are revealing the massive job loss that we are going to witness due to the penetration of AI and Robots, there is still a ray of hope. Chatbots are sure to displace several employers from their basic jobs, but they can be up skilled to handle other tasks that demand better human skills. Organizations need to change their business model as they adapt workplace automation to deliver better opportunities to the employees. Swapnil Jain, Co-founder of Observe.AI, an AI startup told BBC that, “Our mission, broadly, is to augment the [human] agent, not necessarily get rid of the agent.”

There are obvious advantages of incorporating chatbots and AI into call centres and customer service, but they are still not developed enough to have a personal and humanly conversation.

The development of empathetic robots might have a scarring effect on the call centre industry since it could replace more employees. A Gartner study found that only 9% of customers were solving issues via self-service. This proves that there is still time for us to be wary of AI wiping out jobs completely. Customers are still looking up to solving their issues and asking their queries with a human rather than a machine on the other side.

The huge advantage of automation and robotics is still very visible since they can carry out work in a much simpler and less time-consuming way with minimum labour and costs. Technology will have its boons and banes. Hence, it is high time we address the banes to minimize the damage in the near future.

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