I’ve always wanted a personal assistant. Now I have one, and she’s a robot.
A few months ago, I got a note from source about setting up a meeting, and he added his assistant, Amy, to our e-mail chain. Within minutes, Amy and I were e-mailing back-and-forth to settle on a time and place. When I scrolled down to the bottom of her signature, I noticed these words under her name: “artificial intelligence that schedules meetings.” It turns out I’d been chatting with a bot.
“People don’t like to do that ping pong that comes along with planning meetings,” said Dennis Mortensen, the brains behind Amy. As chief executive and founder of New York-based start-up x.ai, he’s focused on solving a problem that plagues professionals everywhere — the tedious e-mail tango attached to the estimated 10 billion business meetings arranged each year.
“Our epiphany was: What if we can take the solution that people really want and make a machine do it?” Mortensen said. Enter Amy (or Andrew, if you prefer a male bot). Thus far the pair have scheduled tens of thousands of meetings every month over the past year for their beta testers.
I told Mortensen I wanted (nay, needed) an Amy of my own, so he let me join the test. Setup was simple: I provided her access to my Gmail account and calendar through the firm’s website, and then answered questions over e-mail about my meeting preferences, such as the hours I typically work and when I take lunch. From there, all I needed to do was add Amy to my e-mails when I needed to plan a meeting.
For the first few exchanges, it was a bit awkward. “I’m adding my digital assistant,” I’d explain in my communiques. Some took quickly to the concept, but others got confused and demanded an explanation. “I have to train her,” I’d respond, “but I like her.”
Of course, like any new staffer, she made mistakes. There were times when Amy misinterpreted meeting plans or sent out multiple invites. But as I got more comfortable, I came to rely on her more. The big test came when I dashed out a string of e-mails before a weeklong vacation, leaving Amy to schedule calls upon my return. She was flawless. And now every week, she drops me a note, letting me know how hard she’s been working and how I can improve our relationship (and I do want to).
The takeaway: As artificial intelligence, Amy isn’t too intimidating. And while she’s not perfect (and who is?) she definitely shows promise.
The Beta Testing column appears every other week in the Living Arts section of the Boston Globe. Have a suggestion for a test? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
Janelle Nanos can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @janellenanos.
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