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I couldn’t believe that after years of regularly catching some of the SyFy New Year’s Twilight Zone marathon, I still hadn’t seen some episodes. Somehow I’d missed “The Brain Center at Whipple’s,” which falls into the Twilight Zone subgenre of man vs. machine: Wallace V. Whipple goes all-out on automating his family-owned factory, and manages to shed basically every employee except himself, which saves a ton of money and makes everything a lot more efficient. We never really learn what the Whipple company does, but whatever it is, all the workers were capable of being replaced by a bunch of those early-1960s TV mainframe cabinets, with their flashing lights and inscrutable whirs and beeps.

Of course in the end (spoiler alert, but not really), Mr. Whipple himself winds up getting replaced by a chunky TV robot, which we see scooting around the boss’s office in the final scene, making phone calls and generally taking charge. The robot even goes so far as to appropriate Mr. Whipple’s preferred bit of stage business, habitually twirling his watch chain. Why a robot would need a watch, or why this tic would be a prerequisite for the job of Whipple CEO, is not explained.

Twilight Zone episodes that centered on Artificial Intelligence (AI), robotics, and related technologies tended to be dystopian. Even a genius visionary like Rod Serling didn’t really anticipate how seamlessly AI would be able to integrate with the systems—and people—where it was being implemented.

But in fact, as industry consultant Brent Kelly of KelCor has reminded our Enterprise Connect and No Jitter audiences on several occasions, it’s a fuzzy line between what’s AI and what’s simply a really good algorithm. AI isn’t a thing that’s grafted onto a system, but an increasingly sophisticated way of making that system work. The most obvious example is contact centers: The old-time ACD (automatic call distributor) had enough intelligence to “know” how to route a call based on primitive (by today’s standards) criteria. Today’s increasingly AI-infused contact center systems are doing the same thing, just at a finer granularity and with the option of guiding contacts to a new sort of “agent” called a chatbot.

What this all means for the enterprise is that you’re much less likely to replace your contact center agents with chatbots wholesale than you are to build your next-generation customer experience around a strategy that deploys human and AI resources. You’ll use the best of both, while sparing each the tasks that are either too simple (for humans) or too mysteriously human (for chatbots).

For Enterprise Connect Orlando 2019, we’ve planned a track focused on AI, along with  speech technologies, and we’ll have AI sprinkled throughout the rest of the program, including a session from KelCor’s Kelly entitled, “What It Really Takes to Put AI to Work in Your Contact Center.” In addition, Daniel Hong of Forrester will lead a session in which end users describe their chatbot strategy. And AI is sure to be a topic of discussion in our Wednesday General Session devoted to the Contact Center and Customer Experience. This will be the first time we’ve ever put a Contact Center panel on the main stage -- a sign that Contact Center is no longer a niche within communications and collaboration but rather a critical factor in enterprises’ Digital Transformation success.

In the Twilight Zone episode’s penultimate scene, Mr. Whipple repairs to the bar across the street from the factory to bemoan his obsolescence. It’s tough being a CEO with too much faith in technology and too little impulse control—just ask Elon Musk. If Mr. Whipple had opted for a more gradual migration, that R2D2-wannabe would have been his admin, and the phone would have been integrated inside it.

I’ll close by encouraging you to register for Enterprise Connect Orlando 2019 before our lowest rates expire next Friday, on Jan. 11. You’ll see AI and a lot more the week of March 18 at the Gaylord Palms hotel.

 

Eric Krapf
GM & Program Co-Chair Enterprise Connect & WorkSpace Connect
Publisher, No Jitter

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