Robots and Receptionists

University Unveils Robot Receptionist

From the article:This first version of Valerie is rough around the edges. However, it is a start, and engineering refinement will make her better and better. Think about how many businesses have receptionists sitting at the front desk. Imagine, over the next 5 years or so, Valerie improving dramatically as voice recognition capabilities improve, software improves, etc. Now imagine most of those human receptionists being replaced by inexpensive robots.

That sounds far-fetched today because we've never seen it before. However, a receptionist has a fairly limited repertoire of necessary skills. The receptionist needs to:Over the course of several years, a programmer can use standard technology to handle all of these different situations (and variations) to create a very effective robotic receptionist. With facial recognition software and a little tweaking, the robotic receptionist will likely be better than most human receptionists. Using something like Microsoft Speech Server, the robotic receptionist can also answer the phone.

Let's imagine that the first robotic receptionists that get deployed can handle 95% of the situations they encounter. That means that, for 19 out of 20 arriving customers, the robotic receptionist will be able to handle the situation autonomously and route the person correctly. On one out of 20 arriving customers, the robotic receptionist will say, "Hang on one moment while I call someone to assist you." Then the rate will improve to 97%. Then 99%. Then 99.8%. And so on. That ability to incrementally improve -- to get better and better over time -- is why robots will be able to take over so many jobs.

Now imagine a mobile receptionist -- one who can walk or roll around. Imagine that this receptionist knows about the location, price and in-stock status of every product in a large retail store. Imagine 20 of these robots roaming around the store to help customers. If you walk into the store looking for Guacamole dip, the robot immediately walks with you to the Guacamole dip location in the store. As we get used to interacting with these robots in our everyday lives, we will take them for granted (just like we take ATM machines for granted today), and they will seem completely normal when we interact with one sitting in the receptionist's chair at any local business.

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