Janeai

Alexa for Business? 'Ubiquitous' Computing Comes to the Workplace

With a new chatbot-style digital assistant, companies may gain functionality akin to Alexa for business.

After years of jokes about Siri mishearing questions, natural language processing is rapidly becoming a part of our everyday lives. Now, products fueled by NLP may give companies "Alexa for business"-style capabilities. 

NLP will likely soon make its way into areas of our lives beyond the home. For example, Amazon is developing a version of its Alexa voice assistant for the hospitality industry. Voice technology that relies on NLP could also be of use in vehicles or at airports--for example, when checking in or checking flight status.

These advancements have led to important improvements in the accuracy and usefulness of chatbots, which rely on natural language processing to answer questions and provide the right information.

“Previous generations of chatbots--and even some that are still in practice today--were built on highly scripted interactions, meaning that they were only able to respond effectively if questions fell into a very narrow set of rules,” said Ryan Lester, director of consumer engagement technologies at LogMeIn. “They were one-size-fits-all, did not understand the context of questions, and were incapable of having continuous conversations.”

But, thanks to NLP, today’s chatbots can go beyond the script, Lester said. And companies may soon begin integrating the technology into their work environments. In fact, Jane.ai is betting on it. The company in June released its namesake product, a chatbot that uses natural language processing to help employees access a variety of systems--and their information--at the office. It's not Alexa for business--yet--but the release is a sign on things to come.

Learning over Time

Jane.ai is a chatbot-style digital assistant that uses AI and natural language processing to find information and learn over time.

“Our whole goal as a company is we want to make artificial intelligence accessible in a chat interface,” said David Karandish, Jane.ai’s cofounder and the former CEO of Answers.com.

Founded with Chris Sims in St. Louis, Mo., in 2017, the AI platform is meant to make it easier, quicker and more efficient for employees to access basic company information including reports, scheduled meetings, contact information and onboarding documents.

The product is meant to be used like Siri or Alexa for your personal life, except it’s for your company, Karandish said. Jane.ai. is designed to connect users to applications, documents and other essential tools and files for their working lives through a chat interface that brings to mind Slack, or perhaps an on-screen version of Alexa.

To build out the NLP-based system, developers had to look first at how the digital assistant understands, and then what it does. Jane.ai’s ability to recognize commands in plain, commonly used terms was important, Karadish said. “When you’re communicating with an AI platform, you don’t want to learn 25 different commands.”

The product could fit across a variety of industries, but it will be most useful to companies that use cloud-based applications and storage options, noted Karadish. This allows the technology to be used through multiple devices and across multiple services--with the potential to become "ubiquitous" for employees.

Ubiquitous Computing

Indeed, a service like Jane.ai could be a step toward ubiquitous computing, a development concept that focuses on information rather that devices. Computing lives as services you encounter as you move through the world--for example, as a chatbot you can use on a variety of devices associated with your job--instead of living on a specific piece of hardware like a server or desktop.

Karandish and team believe this kind of computer has a role in the workplace, pointing to the amount of time employees spend looking for information: A 2013 webinar from IHS Knowledge Collections reported that engineers spend 13 percent more time now looking for information than in 2002.

But such a system had to be designed to be easy and effective to use, and artificial intelligence in the workplace has to be comprehensive, ubiquitous and designed to learn, added Karandish.

“I ask Siri a question and she doesn’t know the answer; if I come back five minutes later she still doesn’t know the answer,” Karandish said. The Jane.ai chatbot, in contrast, is designed to look for an answer if it can't retrieve relevant information the first time a question is asked.

AI-powered digital assistants are only advancing in popularity in the home, and analysts predict that digital assistants will increase not only the sales of the devices they live on, but also the sales of items bought through those devices. Jane.ai’s Karandish thinks the market is ready to adopt that technology into the workplace--and believes it can be helpful at work the way it has been helpful at home.

 

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