For the past few weeks, I’ve been using a virtual personal assistant called x.ai to schedule appointments and calls. The magic behind its near perfect performance is artificial intelligence, according to the company:
Magically schedule meetings
That’s us. That’s all we think about. x.ai is a personal assistant that lets you use email to schedule meetings. You speak to firstname.lastname@example.org as you would to any other person – and you can have her do all the tedious email ping pong that comes along with arranging a meeting.
It’s unclear to me how much is being accomplished by the AI of x.ai and how much involves people, but as a user I certainly don’t care, because it has been the best scheduling tool I’ve ever used.
The mechanism is simple in the extreme. When I’ve gotten to the place in a discussion with someone about scheduling a meeting or call, I simply do something like this, cc’ing Amy Ingram (the email address of the AI):
Subsequently, Amy emails the other person and — by access to my Google calendar — offers up various times on the week or days that I suggested, resolves the time with them, and then tees up an invitation for us both.
Amy also sends me copies of the emails she sends out (although I have stopped looking at them), as well as weekly updates on the status of outstanding meeting arrangements.
I am certain that Konstantin and the dozens of others who have ‘spoken’ to Amy believe she is a real person.
I can also update Amy on my preferences, as I did today, telling ‘her’ that I’d rather, in general, schedule calls and meetings in the afternoon:
I’ve updated Amy with my phone number and Skype account, so that can be added to meeting requests, too, when I stipulate.
To date, Amy has performed flawlessly. For example, She was coordinate with a sales director at Gigaom Research about a meeting, and he had already spoken to me face-to-face when I was in San Francisco this past week, so he emailed her that it was already set up. She emailed me explaining that it had already been done. Wow.
x.ai is in closed beta at the moment, but I am certain that we will all be directing our Amy to talk to other people’s Amys before too long.
Perhaps more importantly is the bigger observation about the use of bounded AI in business-related domains, like virtual assistant tasks. Conceivably Amy could soon be doing my expense reports, invoicing, travel plans, and a long list of tightly scripted tasks that eat away at my time. I estimate that Amy is already giving me back an hour or more a week, and as the list grows, the benefits simply mount.
There are greater areas, perhaps more strategic to the company, where AI is likely to play. I am planning a research note on Algorithmic and AI HR, where I will explore how the hiring, evaluation, guidance, training, and firing that goes on in HR might be better handled by non-human agents. Amy and other tools like ‘her’ is showing how that might start.