Tag Archives: artificial intelligence

Is Jill Watson after your job?

She began work as a teaching assistant at Georgia Tech in January 2016, helping students on a masters level artificial intelligence course. At first, she needed help from her colleagues but she soon learnt and it wasn’t long before she was providing support to all students without assistance. Human assistance that is. “Jill” was the creation of course leader Ashok Goel – an artificial intelligence tutor developed using IBM’s Watson platform.

The course was entirely online and questions were submitted via an online forum. Initially the AI derived answers weren’t so good so the human tutors responded. But as time went on “Jill”’s answers improved so the tutors took the answers and posted them to the forum. Within a short space of time, the answers were near perfect and the AI instance was responding directly to the students. The students were not aware that they weren’t dealing with a real person – but then, do they really care if they are getting good advice?

This isn’t the only form of AI that I have seen applied in the education environment. At EDUCAUSE last year, I saw a demonstration of an AI based chat bot that guided an applicant through the process of identifying a suitable course at university and ultimately the application process itself. I was driving the questions, playing the role of the applicant – the responses were reassuring and at the end of the process, I felt satisfied that I had been given good advice.

In both instances, the AI instance will have had to learn from real life examples to build up its knowledge bank in order to make informed decisions. In the case of Jill Watson, that learning took little time; with the AI applications assistance there was more initial programming which was underpinned by some clear rules and expectations. But given that in both examples, the AI instance learnt from patterns of behaviour exhibited by real people, is there scope for using artificial intelligence at the service desk?

The answer has to be yes. The service desk system has a wealth of information about problems and their solutions that can be drawn upon and used to address submitted problems. There are many repetitive questions that get asked of a service desk which could easily be handled by an AI instance. Many service desks have identified these – password resets being an obvious example – and have sought to reduce the impact of these through FAQ sections and similar channels. But how effective are these mechanisms? Do they help deliver a one stop shop?

Could AI further aid service desk staff? It could – dealing with repetitive queries is one thing but artificial intelligence could be deployed to recognise similar questions from the bank of queries in the service management system and identify solutions. The service desk staff would then be able to give a quicker response rather than having to re-learn how to deal with a problem or seek out the expert that dealt with it last time around. Alternatively, the AI system might identify the person with the most expertise and route the query accordingly.

AI is far quicker at identifying patterns than people. As a result an artificial intelligence based system would give an earlier indication of an incident or bug and so help the service desk respond more quickly (perhaps before some realised there was a problem).

So where will that leave the service desk? Will the use of AI allow service desk staff to focus on the really meaty problems that are more satisfying to solve or will it give staff the opportunity to focus on new areas? Alternatively, will it lead to a deskilling of staff, an unrewarding role reduced to passing on solutions that are drawn down from a vast body of previous experience? Is Jill Watson going to take your job?