Businesses shouldn’t be developing bots and artificial intelligence solutions just because they’re trendy, or because they think they can replace their employees. Smart businesses will use these technologies to free employees from mundane business processes and allow them to be more creative and ‘human’ at work.
That’s according to Kriti Sharma, vice-president: bots and AI at Sage, who was recently named in Forbes magazine’s 30 under 30. She built her first robot at the age of 17, designed to bring chocolates to its controller. The software bots she works on at Sage today are designed to helping business builders do less admin, and more of what they love.
Less admin, more freedom
Sharma is the brain behind Sage’s recently launched chatbot called Pegg, developed to hide the complexities of accounting and let entrepreneurs manage their finances through conversation. “Few business owners wake up and say “Yay! I get to do my invoices today””, she says. “Pegg takes away a lot of the pain by making it as easy as chatting to a friend on Facebook.”
Automation can give accountants more freedom, too. By taking over manual tasks like scanning receipts and updating expenses, bots will free up their time to focus on serving as strategic advisors to their customers and offering a more personalised service.
Freeing us up for higher value tasks
Jennifer Sutherland, innovation capability builder at Standard Bank, believes that bots and automation could help unlock a friendlier and more human workplace, rather than taking us into a cold, dystopian future. Supported by automation, people serving customers will be able to focus on higher value tasks, be more creative and take more initiative.
“Creativity is a mindset. Many people believe they simply aren’t creative by nature, when in fact there are techniques to bolster creativity,” says Sutherland. “But they need the time and space to explore new things. When they are busy for 8 hours a day on their core job, they don’t have time to learn something new, solve problems, or explore a new technology.”
AI, she believes, should serve to free up time for things like encouraging creativity, and help bring motivation and purpose back to the frontline of customer service.
Building friendly bots
Sharma notes that one of the important elements of a chatbot is the personality it projects – it must be likeable and it must be adaptable to the user’s personality. “We’ll be spending a lot of time with bots in the future because they will our virtual assistants,” she says. “So we must be able to enjoy interacting with them. We place a big focus on building ‘nice’ robots”.
At the same time, Sharma believes that we should embrace ‘botness’ and build bots to be bots, not to be like humans. Humans, she says, aren’t naturally the most optimised for tasks like intelligent automation, which is what we’re developing bots for in the first place.
Bots shouldn’t imitate human biases
As bots are set to become a prominent feature of the future, it is important that they reflect the diversity of the audiences they serve and don’t replicate human biases. “We also shouldn’t build bots that project the same stereotypes and biases that characterise human society,” says Sharma.
For example, many virtual assistants today use female voices, building on the stereotype of associating women with administrative and personal assistance work. Sharma specifically developed Pegg as a gender-neutral bot for this reason. Bots should be inclusive and feel welcoming to people irrespective of gender, language or culture.
To get this right, we should consider not only how bots’ personalities are projected, but also the diversity of the teams that make them and the diversity of the data that bots use for their inputs, Sharma says.