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We Bot This: The future of AI-powered virtual assistants and communication agents

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By Sarvagya Mishra, Founder, SuperBot 

Let’s start with an underappreciated fact: most people today have encountered a bot at some point in their lives. They pop up on websites and social media platforms to guide users, provide query resolutions, and even enable purchases in a few clicks. Apple users have long used Siri for everything, from searching for information to creating viral videos. Virtual assistants such as Alexa are now common fixtures in most modern urban homes.

It should, therefore, come as no surprise that virtual assistants have made their way into the enterprise ecosystem. AI-powered communication agents are already in use to automate customer service, providing human-like interactions to resolve the most common queries and helping organizations drive consistent and personalized conversations at scale.

This brings us to the question: what is next for this high-growth, high-potential domain?

The virtual assistant landscape: Where are we now and what could change
As an adage puts it, to go forward, we must go back – and so, to understand what the future has in store for virtual assistants, we must understand where they are at present.

Today, AI-powered communication solutions, whether chatbots or voice agents, are powering customer engagement for businesses across a host of industries. In India, top educational institutions such as ICFAI Business School, Lovely Professional University, Chandigarh University, and Bennett University are using these intelligent agents to automate all counselling-related processes. Similarly, healthcare service providers are deploying virtual assistants to break down existing data silos and accomplish tasks such as fetching patient reports, checking doctor availability, making/rescheduling appointments, and collecting payments.

Given the pace at which technology is evolving, however, it is not too hard to imagine AI-powered agents taking over more tasks that are, currently, the exclusive domain of humans. Heuristics, whether in terms of usability or resolution efficacy, is already popular in this high-growth space, with top players experimenting with deep learning neural network architectures and AI/ML models that can adapt in real-time to dynamic query changes. Natural language capabilities such as NLP, NLU, and NLG are constantly upgraded to enable more life-like conversations that mimic human interactions.

Businesses are already finding new and innovative uses for these capabilities. AI-powered voice agents are being used to enable process automation for various business functions such as marketing, customer service, and sales, etc. For instance, in addition to handling inbound service calls, these voice agents can also concurrently reach out to thousands of people a day to push marketing promotions, collect consumer feedback, follow-up on business leads, or conduct surveys. Such multipronged usability allows enterprises to scale up their operations harmoniously while ensuring consistency, accuracy, and efficacy.

The next natural step will be to add a layer of cognition to all interactions. Doing so not only enables bots and virtual assistants to understand and interpret information like a human being while making the most optimal, data-driven decisions but also demonstrate non-machine qualities such as empathy. When this evolution arrives, it will be more than just a forward march in terms of capabilities; it will also represent the core of all future enterprise bots and virtual assistants.

Always Evolving: Futurescoping the next generation of virtual assistants
Imagine, for instance, the difference that an AI-powered virtual assistant can make in the realm of mental health. Drawing upon the collective knowledge and learnings of generations of psychologists, therapists, and counsellors, it can provide cost-effective, personalized therapy to people in need, at their point and time of need. Individuals can use it for counselling on mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, and grief, or to deal with loneliness and heartbreak. Businesses can use it to monitor and address mental health issues at the workplace to minimize employee burnout, as well as to identify potential issues with processes, organizational practices, or work culture that have a detrimental human impact. All they would need to do is make a call on the virtual assistant hotline, wherever they are, whenever they need.

Similarly, a voice-based virtual assistant in the career counselling domain can benefit both students at the cusp of choosing a higher education course and young jobseekers looking to identify the best career for them. It can help them assess their skillsets and areas of interest before presenting the different career paths open to them. It can also analyze existing market trends to help them understand what kind of skills they would need to be successful in their preferred careers, as well as the growth opportunities they can expect. This kind of guided, data-driven career exploration can eliminate the confusion and lack of clarity that many young jobseekers and college students face while making professional and academic decisions.

This is just the tip of the iceberg. As artificial intelligence becomes more advanced, the areas of application for bots and virtual assistants will become virtually limitless; it isn’t for nothing that the global market for intelligent virtual assistants is expected to grow at a CAGR of 30% to be worth $50 billion by 2028. AI-driven virtual assistants are expected to power the interface on the first wave of true human-like robots and even make their way into the Metaverse as they take on avatars in a VR landscape.

It is no secret that virtual assistants will dominate most business interactions in the future. We will see them, in physical devices such as robots and drones, on our screens, and in our apps – talking to us, providing companionship, conversations, and solutions.

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