“Siri, how many tablespoons are in a cup?”
“Alexa, what’s the weather forecast for tomorrow?”
You probably use digital assistants to help you cook dinner at night and plan your clothes for the next day. But are you taking advantage of the same technology to get more done during your work day? And do you know the etiquette of working with digital assistants?
We asked Robby Slaughter, productivity expert and principal at AccelaWork, a business consulting firm, what we all need to know about using digital assistants to get more done at work.
Know Your Options
There’s a whole new world of productivity tech on the market. Siri, OK Google and Cortana can help you make phone calls, set reminders or schedule appointments, and that’s a simple way to be more efficient, Slaughter says. “It’s faster to say ‘Siri, call Bob Smith on mobile on speaker’ than it is to unlock your phone, go to the contact records, and dig out his information.” But there are more powerful options as well.
Start looking at more impressive tools such as x.ai or Clara Labs, which are AI assistants that can schedule appointments with other people simply by copying them on an email, Slaughter says. “And if you really want to see AI at work, try something like Fin. This is a completely independent assistant that you can ask to do anything. Whatever the AI can’t figure out, humans behind the scenes can guide.”
Be Patient and Careful
As with any tool, there’s going to be a learning curve. “First, be patient,” Slaughter says. “This is an emerging technology that we are all struggling to understand. Just like other tools, it won’t always work.” As enhancements are pushed to market, Slaughter says that gives people an opportunity to “screw up with more calamity.” “Email is faster than postal mail, but we are much more likely to forget an attachment or make a typo,” he says. “Saying ‘OK Google, call Micah Bryan’ might end up ringing your ex-husband, Mike O’Brien. That’s a mistake you’d never make yourself.”
It’s also important to be transparent with other humans about what you’re using. “Instead of saying ‘My secretary, Adam, will schedule our appointment,’ type ‘I have an AI robot that I’m trying out for scheduling appointments,’” he recommends. “Your honesty will smooth most any problem you may have.”
Keep in mind that anything that attempts to look human is often going to be interpreted as human, Slaughter says, and that can lead to misunderstandings. “We were all annoyed when we first realized the signature on the form letter wasn’t authentic, and many of us will react when we discover we are talking to a machine,” he says. And just because it’s an AI-based platform doesn’t mean you can ignore security and privacy — follow the same rules you would when dealing with humans. “Don’t give a tool power to do something you wouldn’t normally do, like make a payment to literally anyone who asks.”
Keep an Eye Toward the Future
Slaughter says he expects AI tools to begin sharing their data and to become more powerful. “Right now these systems are mostly independent neural networks with their own training data,” he says. “But in the future, we’ll see centralized repositories as AI becomes a service, just like software, infrastructure, storage, and physical inventory space became a service.” Developers will be able to rent datacenters and hardware to run neural networks, making technology and the data behind it even more powerful.
The changes these advances can bring to the workplace will also change the way we work, so use the time you save wisely. “Productivity improvements make some work obsolete,” Slaughter says. “What are you doing now that a computer will be able to do for you? And if it is [doing it for you], what are you doing instead?”