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They know if someone has a mental health problem after 10 minutes - where will the limits of virtual assistants' capabilities be?

Many figures have been published on how many people in different segments of the labour market will be replaced by artificial intelligence (AI). Based on these figures, assistants doing administrative work, organising and filing may feel rightly threatened. Research and development is increasingly focused on developing the emotional intelligence of virtual colleagues - an attribute of the human workforce that was previously thought to be irreplaceable, but is not so hotly eaten," points out the bbc.com article.

Hol lesz a határa a virtuális asszisztensek képességeinek?-

In the future, more and more work will be outsourced, but human assistants will always have a role to play, bbc.com stresses.

On Sunday, January 7, Ayo Edebiri won the best actress in a television series category at the 2024 Golden Globes. In her acceptance speech, the actress highlighted the invaluable work of her agent and assistant managers. She thanked them for their work behind the scenes, including answering her "crazy, crazy emails".

Assistants play a crucial role in helping successful artists and executives navigate their daily tasks. But as technology becomes more sophisticated, more and more people are asking: will artificial intelligence be able to replace them? Will it be able to organise meetings, find and book the venue for a big corporate event, prioritise incoming mail (including "crazy, crazy emails"), order the best lunch, gently warn you when the work-life boundary slips, when the kid's soccer game starts?

Nowadays, these kinds of administrative tasks are the domain of personnel and executive assistants, who help their bosses with logistics, communications and other tasks. These roles have long been essential in helping senior managers stay productive and able to focus on the big picture.

But there are now AI-powered virtual assistant platforms that offer themselves as an alternative to human assistants. ClickUp AI, for example, boasts the ability to consolidate and properly optimise daily tasks; Wally generates emails on behalf of employees.

Other emerging technologies that are not technically AI-based virtual assistant programs are also beginning to replace some of the tasks usually left to administrative professionals. Process automation or scheduling software can take some of the burden of day-to-day logistics off the shoulders of human workers. Generative artificial intelligence can also help bosses with increasingly complex tasks, such as putting together an itinerary for a business trip or doing the research needed for meetings in advance.

AI experts have long predicted that administrative roles, especially those that deal with repetitive and routine tasks, could be the first to be cut as AI technology advances.

But there is no need to panic just yet, according to Mansoor Soomro, senior lecturer in sustainability and international business at Teesside University in England. He says artificial intelligence is not yet ready to handle anything beyond basic assistant tasks. \"AI is still struggling to cope with complex tasks where human-level decision making is required.

Soomro explains that currently \"AI cannot be intelligent in terms of emotions, and that is the hardest nut to crack\". He says it still lacks the sensitivity and nuance of human assistants, as well as the creativity that many leaders are looking for.

There is also a tendency for some assistants to use these new tools to make their jobs easier, but they are well aware that they would be unable to replace technology entirely.

Among them is Joanne Manville, a UK-based assistant who is also the founder of Joanne Manville Virtual Assistance. It is a 30-employee business that provides remote assistance services to a range of businesses. \"We regularly use automation tools to facilitate client productivity, and we support clients who want to test tools for their business like ChatGPT,\" she says.

Manville and his team have been using automation platforms such as Asana for scheduling and Calendly for meetings for years, to that portfolio they added IFTTT and Zapier automation software this year to drive even greater efficiencies. They are also experimenting with chatbots for tasks such as solicitations via social media, and AI-based transcription software for meeting notes.

Manville, however, feels that much of the work of assistants cannot be replicated by AI. \"Artificial intelligence and automation are good for functional tasks, but people really value human-to-human contact and customer service,\" he says. \"Customers often choose their new assistant based on the person's personality.\"

He adds that dealing with clients' emotional ups and downs is also a key part of being a successful assistant. \"You need to be able to sense when someone is stressed, judge what is happening and decide whether to relax or offer more support.\"

Manville believes that even if AI could fully replace humans in a purely functional sense, many bosses might be reluctant to make the switch. \"Some people would prefer a human assistant to join a meeting and take notes rather than AI, because the meeting is highly confidential and it's not a good feeling to know that the recording is on a server somewhere,\" he says.

In other cases, clients have tried AI but then returned to human assistants. \"We've had clients who used AI to take their meeting notes, but they've been so wrong that they're now having us take their notes.\"

What might the future hold? Where will the limits of AI's development of emotional intelligence be? Researchers are certainly thinking along these lines. Soomro says the biggest research and development is currently taking place within multimodal sensing.These technologies use voice and speech analysis, as well as facial recognition technology, to mimic human traits such as intuition and sensitivity.

"Artificial intelligence has been proven to be able to recognise that a person has a mental problem if they listen to their voice for 10 minutes," he says. Soomro also agrees that humans will always have a role in the assisting industry, but "artificial intelligence will do the routine mechanical elements of the job and improve the efficiency of the human workforce,\" he says.

Image: freepik

Can we imagine a future in which emotional labour pays higher wages? Read our previous article!

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