World’s Smartest Computer to Take Job as Call-Center Agent

The Citizen's Guide to the Future
May 21 2013 4:34 PM

World’s Smartest Computer to Take Job as Call-Center Agent

Watson in the limelight, circa 2011.
Watson in the limelight, circa 2011.

Photo by Ben Hider/Getty Images

Just two years removed from the fame and glory of defeating Ken Jennings on "Jeopardy!," the world’s smartest computer finds itself looking for work as a call-center agent.

IBM announced today that it has trained its Watson artificial-intelligence software to answer customers’ questions and offer advice about a given company’s products and services. In a brochure touting the new Watson Engagement Advisor service, IBM writes:

IBM Watson represents a bold new step into a new era of computing and has the potential to transform the way people and companies interact over the lifetime of their relationships. The unique combination of natural language processing, hypothesis generation & evaluation, and machine learning of IBM Watson is being applied to customer engagement.
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For example, IBM added, a bank could use Watson to help customers decide what type of account to open based on their financial situation and needs. Forbes reports that ANZ Bank and Nielsen have already signed on as clients.

For Watson, the move to customer service comes on the heels of a highly publicized stint in the health care industry. The artificial-intelligence engine will continue to work in that field as well, IBM execs told the New York Times, but the customer-service business is more of a “high-volume play.”

Keep your head up, Watson. I myself spent a summer working as a tech-support agent when I was 17, and while I can’t say it was the most fulfilling job, it paid the bills. If your experience is anything like mine, you’ll come out of it a much stronger wastepaper-basketball player than you are today.

Future Tense is a partnership of SlateNew America, and Arizona State University.

Will Oremus is Slate's senior technology writer.

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