Google Is Building “Virtual Agents” to Handle Call Centers’ Grunt Work

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The company is working with at least a dozen partners.

Google is officially building AI technology to replace some of the work in call centers, the company announced at its Cloud Next conference Tuesday, confirming earlier reports.

The software is called Contact Center AI, and Google is working with at least a dozen partners, such as Cisco and Vonage, to install “virtual agents” that will be the first to pick up the phone when a customer is routed to a call center. When the customer asks something that the AI can’t do, it will automatically forward the call to a human, according to a blog post by Google Cloud chief scientist Fei-Fei Li.

Li writes that new AI shares some underlying technology as Google Duplex, the AI service showed off earlier this year that emulates a human voice to call restaurants and make reservations. This means that with Contact Center AI, it’s unlikely a customer would know they’re talking to a robot unless it was disclosed at the beginning of the call.

It’s not just AI assistants, though: Google is also building tools for human call-center agents, like AI that analyzes the current conversation and suggests helpful tips from the company’s internal knowledge base to the human. Another tool will analyze conversations at a large scale, to find trends in conversations that could help call centers train agents better. Ostensibly, all this data will also make it easier for Google to improve its virtual agent’s abilities, too.

Going forward, Google is working with those partners to establish best practices for using human-like virtual agents, meaning how to protect the AI from bias, and how to tell customers that they’re not speaking with a human.