Automated online assistant
An automated online assistant is a program that uses artificial intelligence to provide customer service or other assistance on a website. Such an assistant may basically consist of a dialog system, an avatar, as well an expert system to provide specific expertise to the user.
Automated online assistants have the ability to provide customer service during 24 hours a day and 7 days a week, and may, at least, be a complement to customer service by humans. One report estimated that an automated online assistant produced a 30% decrease in the work-load for a human-provided call centre.
Large companies such as Lloyds Banking Group and Royal Bank of Scotland are now using automated online assistants instead of call centres with humans to provide a first point of contact.Also, IKEA has an automated online assistant in their help center.
Automated online assistants can also be implemented via Twitter, or Windows Live Messenger, such as, for example, Robocoke for Coca Cola Hungary. This automated online assistant provides users with information about the brand Coca Cola, but he can also give users party and concert recommendations all over Hungary.
In the travel sector, some new generation airlines like Vueling Airlines are also using virtual agents to offer online sales and customer support. In this case, the virtual assistant was developed by Anboto Group and the agent is handling 200.000 conversations per month in English and Spanish. National Rail Enquiries' Ask Lisa, developed by Creative Virtual and their partners The Virtual Zone answers over 9,000 questions per day about passenger rail services. Creative Virtual also created the automated online assistants for Lloyds Banking Group and Verizon, who has seen a call deflection of up to 40% as a result of the implementation of Ask Verizon partnering with AlterEgos.
Such is the growing demand for more complex and powerful online virtual agents, UK-based AI Applied are working as the first independent worldwide consultants helping businesses get the best out of the technology.
The U.S. Department of Defense utilizes a software assistant they call "Sgt. Star" on U.S. Army run Web sites and Web applications for site navigation, recruitment and propaganda purposes. Sgt. Star is run by the Army Marketing and Research Group, a division operated directly from The Pentagon. Sgt. Star is based upon the ActiveSentry technology developed by Next IT, a Washington-based information technology services company. Other such bots in the Sgt. Star "family" are utilized by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Central Intelligence Agency for intelligence gathering purposes.
The main function of the dialog system of automated online assistants is to translate the human-generated input into a digital format that the automated online assistant can use for further processing by its expert system, as well as interpret whatever solutions or replies it generates back to what a human user understands, and optimally in a way as natural and user-friendly as possible. A major underlying technology to such systems is natural language processing.
In addition, the dialog systems of many automated online assistants have integrated chatterbots, giving them more or less ability of engaging in small talk or casual conversations unrelated to the scope of their expert systems, or simply making the dialog feel more natural.
The avatar of an automated online assistant may be called an interactive online character or automated character. It makes the automated online assistant a form of embodied agent. It aims to enhance human-computer interaction by simulating real-world conversations and experience. Such an interaction model can be constructed to guide conversations in planned directions or allow characters to guide natural language exchanges.
Because such characters can express social roles and emotions of real people, they can increase the trust that users place in online experiences. The level of interactiveness increases the perceived realism and effectiveness of such "actors", which translates into more prosperous on-line services and commerce.
When choosing an avatar to represent a business, it's important to make sure it makes the right impression. Avatars are subject to the principles of the Uncanny Valley and creating a lifelike, photorealistic character without proper consideration of the user experience can have a detrimental effect on web visitors' experience. Sometimes an extremely knowledgeable, intelligent and well designed system with a simple text box can be as, if not more effective.
An automated online assistant also has an expert system that provides specific service, whose scope depends on the purpose of it. This system can be described as an intelligent agent that functions to perceive the needs of customers in order to perform proper reactions by various structured systems, such as question answering.
Also, servers and other maintaining systems to keep the automated assistant online may also be regarded as components of it.
Notes and references
- Providing Language Instructor with Artificial Intelligence Assistant. By Krzysztof Pietroszek. International Journal of Emerging Technologies in Learning (iJET), Vol 2, No 4 (2007)  
- Implementing an online help desk system based on conversational agent Authors: Alisa Kongthon, Chatchawal Sangkeettrakarn, Sarawoot Kongyoung and Choochart Haruechaiyasak. Published by ACM 2009 Article, Bibliometrics Data Bibliometrics. Published in: Proceeding, MEDES '09 Proceedings of the International Conference on Management of Emergent Digital EcoSystems, ACM New York, NY, USA. ISBN 978-1-60558-829-2, doi:10.1145/1643823.1643908
- Aetna's new "virtual online assistant" By Anthony O'Donnell. Insurance & Technology. June 03, 2010[dead link]
- The Effect of Viewer Perceptions of Avatar Anthropomorphism and Realism on Judgments of Credibility and Homophily, and Avatar Choice. By Kristine L. Nowak, Mark A. Hamilton, Chelsea C. Hammond. Published in: Proceedings of the 11th Annual International Workshop on Presence, Padova, 16–18 October 2008. ISBN 978-88-6129-287-1 
- (English) RoboCoke on chatbots.org
- http://www.marketingdirecto.com/actualidad/bases-de-datos-y-crm/vueling-mejora-su-atencion-al-cliente-a-la-vez-que-reduce-costes-gracias-a-anboto/ November 2011
- "Vueling incorpora el Chat Inteligente de Anboto". Marketing Directo.
- "Vueling incorpora un agente virtual para atender a sus clientes". europapress.es.
- Maass, Dave (April 18, 2014). "Answers and Questions About Military, Law Enforcement, and Intelligence Agency Chatbots". eff.org. Electronic Frontier Foundation. Retrieved 5 February 2015.
Sgt. Star is the U.S. Army’s dedicated marketing and recruitment chatbot, and he isn’t going to turn whistleblower any time soon.
- Maass, Dave (January 31, 2014). "Free Sgt. Star: Army Ignores FOIA Request for Artificial Intelligence Records". eff.org. Electronic Frontier Foundation. Retrieved 5 February 2015.
- "The Benefits of Interactive Online Characters" (PDF). Byron Reeves, Stanford University.