When former Havas CEO David Jones — now founder of his own brand technology network You & Mr Jones — pulled out his iPhone and offered to show me his amazing personal assistant “Amy Ingram,” I thought our interview was about to take an uncomfortable turn.
But Jones wasn’t trying to show me photos of his real-life PA. I was about to meet “Amy Ingram,” a bafflingly human-like AI personal assistant which schedules meetings for busy executives. All they have to do is email [email protected] and “Amy” lets you and your contact know where and when to meet.
It sounds like a fairly simple and easy-to-produce idea. But what makes Amy so remarkable is just how human-like her emails are.
Jones ran through how it works: You set your preferences — you prefer phone calls in the morning at these hours, these are the five places you like to have coffee, these are the three places you like to have lunch, and so on. If Jones wants to set up a meeting with someone, he copies them into an email with Amy asking “can you fix a meeting for us?”
She immediately sets to work, asking Jones’ contact which day he can make. The next thing Jones sees is a calendar invite. “She’s now organised 55 meetings for me, seamlessly,” Jones said. Thinking back to his days at Havas, Jones remarked how useful Amy would have been from a corporate perspective: Reducing the email ping-pong that occurs when 500 people need to meet for a global meeting.
Amy hasn’t always been foolproof. There was one occasion where Jones only gave her 15-minutes notice to organise a call. But Amy responded back: “I’m sorry I didn’t manage to set up the meeting. If you didn’t manage to speak to John, please let me know, and I will be happy to find a new time.”
Jones told us: “This is a computer! It writes to you in an incredibly human way. You find yourself being polite and saying ‘Dear Amy…’ then saying ‘why on earth am I writing that — it’s a computer!'”
Amy’s a popular lady: She’s received flowers, chocolate and whiskey
Jones isn’t the only person to have been caught off-guard by Amy’s human-like behaviour. Dennis Mortensen, the CEO and founder of the company behind Amy X.ai., has some brilliant anecdotes of people being fooled into thinking Amy was a real PA.
“She has received flowers, chocolate, and whiskey at the office. She’s been asked if she’ll also be attending the meeting, pick up people in the lobby — and she just might have been flirted with a few times. At X.ai., we’ve invested heavily into and applied a great deal of effort in humanising Amy. The primary reasons for this are that you shouldn’t have to learn a specific syntax to use X.ai. and you should be able to communicate in the same language to your guests (humans) and your assistant (an AI,)” Mortensen told Business Insider.
X.ai. has a valuation of $US40 million, having raised just over $US11 million in funding to date. Mortensen says there are “thousands” of high profile CEOs like Jones in the system, but that X.ai.’s plan is also to democratize the idea of a personal assistant to everyone.
“Think of the market size: 87 million knowledge workers in the US alone schedule upwards of 10 billion meetings a year … you should think of X.ai. as similar to Dropbox, but for meeting scheduling. They save files for 400 million users — we want to schedule meetings for 400 million users. They have a free edition, so will we, they have a pro edition for $US9, so will we,” Mortensen said.
When you see how seamlessly Amy works, it immediately sparks your imagination as to what else X.ai. could plug the robot PA into: She could order you a car on Uber at just the right time, or book you a restaurant through OpenTable, or even send your guest an appropriate thank-you gift via Amazon.
But Mortensen isn’t interested: “We schedule meetings. No more, no less! There’s no interest for our team to fool around with other ideas and have a product that can do seven things kinda half-arsed. We want to be world class at one thing: X.ai. schedules meetings.”
One question still lingers: As Amy’s popularity grows, does Mortensen ever worry about putting real humans out of a job?
“I personally have a very optimistic view of the future and I honestly believe that we’ll all be better off as machines take on repetitive non-thinking tasks like email ping pong to set up a meeting. If I had a human assistant, I would certainly rather see him pick up my guests in the lobby and make sure they feel welcome, than fiddle around in Outlook all day trying to manage my 15 weekly meetings. This is not just a fantasy, and we have a whole set of current users with human assistants who are actively using Amy,” Mortensen responded.
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