The robots aren’t coming—they’re already here. The Oxford English dictionary defines artificial intelligence as “The theory and development of computer systems able to perform tasks that normally require human intelligence, such as visual perception, speech recognition, decision-making, and translation between languages.” From Facebook using bots for suicide prevention to Mark Cuban’s prediction that the world’s first trillionaire will work in AI, this topic has earned exponential interest. That’s due to an equal dose of fear and fascination.
Gartner’s “Predicts 2017: Artificial Intelligence” report shares that client inquiries about AI grew 500 percent from 2014 to 2015. Executives want to know which AI tools they should invest in and how to deploy them across organizations. These are big questions in themselves. But there’s also widespread fear that AI will get too good and start stealing jobs.
This fear is not unfounded. If we’ve already reached a point where some AI tools outperform humans, what will the future of work look like? If Gartner’s forecast proves to be correct, it looks full of opportunity for some surprising players.
The first core prediction is that tech’s biggest names won’t lead the AI revolution. Instead, a slew of small vendors who provide chatbots for specific industries will give more business value than the likes of Google. This is a twist on the traditional “big corporate” conundrum where an industry giant overtakes small businesses. Instead, Gartner’s report argues that enterprises should seek proposals from smaller AI vendors who can teach them new ways to innovate.
The second core prediction is a new IT role that AI will create. “By 2019, more than 10 percent of IT hires in customer services will write scripts for bot interactions,” the report predicts.
Advances in forms of machine learning – like natural-language processing – mean that chatbots hold potential to make the customer experience easier, faster, and more satisfying. This is because chatbots can access knowledge about each customer and how similar customers replied in the past.
But chatbots are not enough in themselves. To reach their full potential, they need a great “navigator” to provide the best results. And although “chatbot scripter” might be IT’s next top job, it won’t be done by developers.
“Programmers are not the best choice to design customer service interfaces,” the report claims. Instead, its authors advise hiring people with customer experience who excel at internal communications and process articulation. These employees are best positioned to lead bot scripting for tools like live chat software. That’s due to the intricate, oddly human way that bot interactions work.
Chatbots are underpinned by a “decision tree” that’s built to direct customers to the results they need. AI has advanced this tree by introducing highly reliable speech to text. This creates “text tags” that are more effective at directing users where they need to go. Chatbot scripters can take this even further by tailoring each tree to meet unique customer needs. Their customer empathy and experience can help them find the most relevant customer keywords to move users throughout the tree.
Businesses that invest in hiring chatbot scripters stand to earn huge gains. If the right “navigator” can be hired to direct customers through the chatbot tree, then the next wave of customer interactions might have much less friction. The combination of human talent with smart machines means that contextual data can be used to skip steps in the tree as needed. It could even detect when user frustration signals the need for a human representative.
This is important since customers aren’t sold on chatbots yet. Research conducted by GetApp earlier this year found that more than one in three customers (37 percent) value talking to a person above all else. By contrast, just 12 percent prefer having no human contact at all.
These results imply that while customers expect better service, they don’t trust robots alone to provide it. They still value a human touch that understands their needs. To bring this to life, businesses of all sizes should hire chatbot scripters with deep customer and business insights.
These essential skills are not within the scope of a traditional programmer’s role. That’s why Gartner’s forecast for the future of AI confirms previous predictions that to have a job in the automation age, employees must use strategy and communications skills that a robot can’t replace.
“Smart machines won’t run themselves, no matter what the movies and TV have shown since Fritz Lang’s Metropolis,” Gartner’s report says. “AI continues to drive change in how businesses and governments interact with customers and constituents. And our 2017 predictions show that the humans—as is always the case in computing change—are the pivot on which AI can turn.”
About the author: Lauren Maffeo covers trends in the project management, finance, and accounting software industries for GetApp, a Gartner company. She focuses her research on strategies and tools to help small and midsize businesses create unique value. Lauren previously covered technology trends for The Guardian and The Next Web.