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Virtual Agents, Digital Assistants: Embracing the Future

Professionals are pinning some of their biggest AI aspirations on improved productivity and efficiency, which could bring benefits to their own employees and to their customers.

According to a recent Thomson Reuters report, making gains from AI powered helpers--including digital assistants and virtual agents--is the top priority for 45% of respondents across key professions such as legal, tax and risk management.

More than two thirds (67%) of respondents indicated their biggest personal motivator was "producing high-quality advice."

David Wong, chief product officer at Thomson Reuters, says AI assistants will help free professionals from mundane tasks so they can take on more complex, creative and strategic assignments that require the human touch.

This brings with it the potential to address human capital issues such as job satisfaction, well-being, and work-life balance. 

"AI assistants will soon be able to complete mundane tasks at or above human quality levels, such as contract drafting or tax return preparation," he said. "Leading firms across industries will formally roll out dedicated AI assistants to all their professionals."


Digital Assistants Empower Research, Collaboration

By automating task delivery, combined with human oversight, professionals can focus on delivering their expertise rather than spending hours searching for answers that a virtual assistant can find in seconds––allowing for streamlined collaboration and customer interactions.

"We believe that AI-empowered professionals will outpace those who don’t take advantage of this era of transformation," he added.

From Wong's perspective, every professional will have an AI assistant that will augment – not replace – their work.

"The AI assistant will be reliable, trusted, and by their side wherever they work, to better serve clients and organizations," he said.

Eventually GenAI will have the potential to help problem-solve; Wong points to applications in legal research where GenAI systems have already identified related concepts and arguments which the user wouldn't have thought of.

"This is particularly valuable in technical fields," he said.


Improving the Customer Experience

Muddu Sudhakar, CEO and co-founder at Aisera, pointed out generative AI is already having a big impact, and this impact is accelerating as companies invest aggressively in rolling out this technology.

GenAI can already handle tier 1 and tier 2 customer support effectively, and it’s completely automated, meaning human agents can focus on more complex matters.

"Of course, the technology will continue to improve," Sudhakar added. "For example, GenAI will be used for avatars that can communicate with customers. This will be done in any language and there will be sensitivity to the culture."

However, organizations are likely to face challenges when integrating virtual agents and digital assistants into their workflows—not the least of which come from employees, who may resist the concept of being replaced by machines.

"There will be fear of job displacement from staff who are deploying these technologies within their departments," Sudhakar said. "This may mean that employees will not want to use these tools."

This can also lead to lower morale and productivity across the whole organization--it's important to leep in mind that change management is always a challenge.

"It’s something that has hindered the adoption and effective use of many technologies," Sudhakar said. "After all, with something like Excel, most people only use a very small portion of the capabilities."

Additionally, it will be difficult to overcome the stigma of legacy chatbot technologies.

"If anything, the industry has been avoiding the word 'chatbot' because of the issues," he said.

Then there are the problems with the models. There are the potential "hallucinations" to which GenAI is prone, which can lead to inaccuracies.

The models may also not be adequately fine-tuned for the unique data of certain industries like healthcare or domains, such as HR, legal or procurement.

"Finally, there will be the need to recreate existing workflows – from legacy IT systems – for the AI age, but this can be difficult, especially for organizations that do not have strong technical resources," Sudhakar said.

According to the Thomson Reuters survey, the biggest concerns include a compromise of accuracy (25%), job loss (19%) and ethics (15%).

"Building AI that solves customers’ biggest pain points in a transparent and responsible way while providing trusted results will help instill confidence and alleviate fears," Wong says.


Balancing Risk with Sound AI Strategy

Wong says it's important to recognize that ultimately professionals are still doing the critical work--GenAI simply removes a step previously required to provide clients with trusted advice and deliverables.

He agrees while the positive benefits of AI deployment are overwhelming, there are risks for relying on AI too much.

"We as business leaders must understand that while AI can systemize the innovation process and reduce workloads for employees, human intervention is still required for many aspects of business," he said.

Wong sees 2024 as the year business and technology leaders will be taking stock to ensure they are leveraging AI in a safe and trusted way. "This will usher in AI adoption at scale, accompanied by a focus on training, investment in AI policies, and collaborative efforts with trusted partners."