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Let an AI personal assistant schedule your day

If you only need to schedule meeting within a single organization -- and everyone is on the same scheduling platform, like Exchange, count yourself blessed. Most people need to set up meetings with friends, partners, co-workers, and clients across businesses, calendaring programs, and scheduling platforms. There's no easy solution, based on the existence of so many web-based scheduling tools. That's the opportunity that x.ai is trying to capitalize on.

x.ai provides you with a dedicated personal assistant who is available 24/7 to help you set up meetings. That's all the service does; the assistant won't run errands, make phone calls, or deliver packages. But ask the assistant to set up a meeting, and she will correspond with the parties involved to find a time that works and a location everyone agrees to, then send a meeting invite when the details are settled.

But here's the trick: x.ai supplies a bot -- a chatbot of sorts -- not a human being. She responds to the name Amy, works exclusively through email, and is surprisingly good at her job.

I've used chatbots before. I've also used a variety of personal assistants. You need look no further than your smartphone, for example, to find a personal assistant like Siri or Google Now. There's no way you could mistake Siri for a human being, of course. Siri tries to do many things, and handles most of them with a veneer of competence, but can't generally follow through on tasks to completion. Try asking Siri to make a dinner reservation, for example, and you'll find she can only go as far as displaying information about the restaurant.

Amy is different. Suppose you want to set up a lunch meeting with Ted later in the week. You can send Ted an email asking him to lunch, and CC: Amy. Amy takes it from there; she'll email Ted and go back and forth until everyone agrees on the appointed time and location. Amy is generally fire and forget; just ask her to set up a meeting, and you can trust her to carry the task across the finish line. If you give her access to your calendar, she won't even pester you with scheduling questions -- she'll handle it all herself and just let you know when it's done.

You can also tell her your preferences in plain English, which she'll remember -- you can tell her your preferred meeting hours, favorite restaurants, and how you like to be contacted, for example.

I've tested Amy in a number of situations, and have been uniformly impressed with her professionalism and effectiveness. I've CC'd her, as in the example I described above, and also emailed her directly, such as, "Amy, please set up a lunch meeting with Ted." She can also manage multiple attendees, such as when I asked her to plan a meeting with two other attendees (Amy currently has a limit of 5 attendees) .

Amy is polite and persistent, and speaks and understands conversational English -- there's no need to write your emails in a specific format or provide data to Amy in computer-speak. That said, a few of her expressions are a bit odd. To one of my contacts, she wrote, "I apologize for getting back to you so quickly," which is a strange thing to say. But otherwise, it's difficult to guess she's not human, suggesting that it might be possible for bots to pass the Turing Test for very specific tasks. Only once in my testing did she fail. For one meeting, she offered the recipient three time choices, and the recipient repeatedly gave a noncommittal response rather than picking a specific time. Eventually, Amy gave up and emailed me to say (in a tone that sounded exasperated, but that might be my imagination...) she could not get the other person to lock in a time for the meeting.

Amy feels like the future. Even more than Siri and Google Now, she seems seamlessly human and as effective as a real person doing the same task. You can try Amy out for yourself for free, though there's a waiting list to tap into the service. Add your name to the waiting list at x.ai; I think you'll be as impressed as I am.

Photo courtesy x.ai

More details on: cbsnews.com


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