June 16, 2017
Robots as carers and customer service executives
By: Nicola Smith

Artificial intelligence, the application of human-like cognitive functions, encompasses intelligent automation, virtual assistants, machine learning, and cognitive computing. The range of applications of AI is fast-growing and is going to transform our day-to-day lives as we know them.

Habitual routines are being transformed as we ask Alexa what the weather is like and what the news headlines are. Soon, our cars will self-navigate whilst we can chat to a virtual agent about which ISA will be best to invest in and the robot looking after an elderly relative, calls with a daily update - and much more. This presents enormous potential for change in the workplace across industries. It will be particularly beneficial in the health and public sector, where demand for services is growing but funds become increasingly stretched.

AI promises to help streamline and improve efficiencies of back office processes in HR and finance functions, for example, simplifying payments to suppliers. These changes will either replace workers or enable workers to focus on the more complex tasks, support decision-making and address the growth in work volumes and unexpected peaks in demand.   

Virtual assistants provide opportunity to manage contact volumes—in Job Centres, hospitals, local government offices and police services. Robots will be fit to play an active customer service role in public spaces such as airports and train stations. They can also adopt the role of a carer, for example, for the elderly population, robots can provide company, indicate changes in routine and raise the alarm following a fall. In hospitals, they can support some surgical procedures, move supplies around hospitals and help provide support therapies for children.  

The virtual agent’s intelligence has matured so much that a customer’s conversation can transfer seamlessly from robot to human. The machine learning behind virtual agents gives them the ability to handle sophisticated customer interaction, allowing them to provide a very "human" customer service.  The customer service provided by virtual agents has proven successful: for example, assisting customers with stolen or lost bank cards, providing mortgage advice, acting as a hotel concierge and answering customer queries at airports.  

Machine learning will support clinical diagnoses in healthcare, weapons detection and suspect tracking (via facial recognition) in policing and security services; as well as providing a mechanism for reviewing social media to track reviews of public services (e.g. via Twitter) to identify those areas where people are discussing the need for service improvement.

AI will absolutely transform the way that public services currently work, and provide enormous benefits to both the service providers and citizens using these services. However public services do need to establish the right legal and ethical frameworks to ensure that these changes are managed effectively and positively.

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