At CES 2017, tech companies introduced the world to loads of gadgets that talk back, making this a big year for intelligent assistants. If this trend continues, it might someday be common to talk to smart cars, table lamps, refrigerators, and TVs, thanks to smart technologies such as Amazon’s Alexa.
Demonstrating this cutting-edge technology at a trade show is one thing, but actually deploying it in a business setting is another. This begs the question: Will these assistants be truly useful anytime soon or are they gimmicks that need to work out their bugs (like causing you to accidentally order expensive stuff) before they’re ready for prime time?
The promise of intelligent personal assistants
Ideally, we want intelligent assistants like Alexa or Siri to “just work,” like the computer in Star Trek. In the show, talking to the next-generation AI on the Enterprise was almost like having a conversation with a human being. Additionally, the Star Trek computer didn’t make embarrassing auto-correct mistakes, fail to understand questions, frustrate crew members with inaccurate results, or embarrass parents by talking dirty to toddlers, like the current generation of assistants are prone to do.
But while the intelligent assistants of today are far from flawless, recent research indicates that we won’t have to wait until the age of interstellar travel for them to become mainstream. In fact, a recent Spiceworks study revealed that 19 percent of organizations have deployed AI chatbots, and workplace adoption is expected to grow to 57 percent by 2021.
As to the benefits of using intelligent assistants, many organizations believe chatbots can increase productivity, enable less typing through voice dictation, and improve data analysis.
Current intelligent assistant usage stats
Echoing the expected growth in adoption are sales estimates from analysts and the AI manufacturers themselves. According to Amazon, the company sold millions of Echo and Echo Dot devices during the 2016 holiday season, and sales grew nine times compared to the same period in 2015. Additionally, research from Consumer Intelligence Research Partners puts the total number of Echos sold before 2016 at well over 5 million.
And then there are the bigger chatbots in the game, namely Siri, Cortana, and Google Assistant, each of which has a potentially huge install base. In fact, there are more than a billion Apple devices in use, 400 million devices running Windows 10, and more than a billion people using Android devices. But running an OS that includes an intelligent assistant doesn’t mean people will actually use it, especially in the office. So that begs the question, which AI chatbots are actually used for business purposes today?
AI chatbot preferences in business
Among businesses that have adopted AI chatbots for work-related tasks, our research shows Apple’s Siri is currently the most commonly used, with 52 percent of organizations using it and an additional 9 percent planning to use it by the end of 2017. Cortana, which is a basic component of the popular Windows 10 operating system, is used by 45 percent of organizations, and an additional 21 percent are planning to adopt it in 2017. If these adoption plans hold true, 66 percent of organizations will be using Cortana by the end of the year, and the Microsoft assistant will overtake Siri as the most commonly used AI chatbot in the workplace.
In comparison, 45 percent of companies expect to use Google Assistant by the end of the year, but only a mere 10 percent expect to use Amazon Alexa. This discrepancy points to Alexa as being a consumer-oriented technology (for now) that needs to play catch-up to reach more established players in the workplace.
Downsides of intelligent assistants
While there are clear benefits to using the technology, all is not rosy when it comes to the future of intelligent assistants. Apart from the aforementioned accuracy issues, these assistants often learn personal information about their users, so some organizations are concerned about privacy.
Additionally, because these devices are always listening for your voice, many people are concerned that they could be used to record and store everything you say. This potential for eavesdropping poses a real security risk that adds to already heightened concerns about hacking and digital espionage. It makes sense then that many IT departments believe it’s important to vet intelligent assistants before they’re adopted in the workplace.
The final word on AI chatbots
The reality we live in is starting to look more like the fantasy worlds we once only dreamed of. And while we aren’t quite there yet, personal intelligent assistants are among the sci-fi technologies starting to make their way into the workplace today. Whether these assistants will work through initial bugs and concerns to become as cool as they are in the movies only time will tell.
Peter Tsai is an IT analyst at Spiceworks.