Should Local BPOs Feel Threatened by “Amelia”?

T-X Terminator on display at the Miraikan museum in TokyoIt’s something out of pop culture. 1984 brought the birth of The Terminator; written by James Cameron and produced by Gale Anne Hurd, starring Arnold Schwarzenegger. The action movie portrayed a robotic assassin from the future. The whole concept of a future where humans are no longer required was, at the time, inconceivable to the general public.

Fast forward a couple of years, and robotics have taken over a majority of assembly line labor, from the automotive and circuit board manufacturers. As technology progresses, repetitive tasks start to dwindle.

In April 2014, IPSoft, a New York based autonomic computing firm, introduced “Amelia”, a humanoid computer program. She’s a virtual engineer that copies the way an engineer works and helps answers technical queries over the phone in a fraction of time humans do.

IPsoft’s Amelia platform was designed in 1998 by Chetan Dube, a former New York University mathematics professor. The program was originally known as “Eliza” in the early stages of development.

So what’s all the fuss? Don’t we deal with automation every time we try and contact any service provider? We’re all familiar with this scenario press 1 for Billing, press 2 for Customer Service and so forth. What makes Amelia different? After countless pressing of numbers, you finally get to a human representative. Amelia will be that final stop, not a human.

Business Process Outsourcing (BPO), a $400 billion industry that employs over 350,000 individuals and creates 70,000 new jobs a year in the Philippines, just might be threatened by Amelia.

She’s definitely not a futuristic assassin covered in muscle that says catchy phrases like “I’ll be back”. What she can do is work in 10 languages. She speaks in a pleasant human voice while answering queries in a fraction of the time it takes a human to do the same. Amelia has a self-learning algorithm that can resolve complex issues within minutes. Another trick up she has up her sleeve is being able to clone herself during peak hours or when a queue has arisen. Amelia is estimated to cut operational costs by as much as 70%, as fewer people will be needed. IPSoft estimate a 30-40% savings in typical infrastructure management cost based on limited human intervention.

Does that mean that the BPO industry will end? There are those that don’t think so, based on an article published by ZDNet. Raman Roy, is one of the BPO industry’s pioneers in India, “doesn’t think that computers can replace humans with anything other than essential functions.”

IPSoft has already created partnerships with Accenture and Infosys. A soft launch of Amelia will be in June 2014. IPSoft says that people shouldn’t look at Amelia as a threat, and Dube says that they “want to pursue the ‘Intel Inside’ strategy, wherein large firms use our technologies.”

As technology progresses and robotics and computers take on repetitive tasks, it also a great reminder of the old saying: “When one door closes, another door opens.”

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Christopher John

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