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Last year I flew from Singapore to Sydney, Australia. As is my habit, soon after the aircraft landed, I switched on my phone to check my messages and emails. In less than a minute, I received an alert from my telco that I had run up more than $50 in data costs. Twenty seconds later, I received a second alert, telling me that my data costs now exceeded $75!

“Hmm,” I thought, “I must have forgotten to sign up for a data-roaming plan.” So I went to the telco app on my phone and went to the data roaming plans on offer. All of the buttons were greyed out. It wouldn’t let me sign up for any of the data roaming plans. Meanwhile, I’d received a third alert from my telco, informing me that my data bill now exceeded $100!

I had no option but to phone back to the telco’s customer service centre in Singapore, with the associated international call charges. Imagine how I felt when instead of a friendly customer service operator, I heard an automated attendant begin with “Press 1 to change your password. Press 2 to order a new phone…”. None of the options were relevant to my problem, and it took a few minutes before I found a way to get through to a human. Thank goodness, the customer service operator was helpful and proactive. She manually overrode the system to subscribe me to a data roaming plan.

We’ve probably all heard stories of automated systems that aren’t intelligent enough to help customers, but what about automated systems that aren’t humble?

Too many automation systems have been designed to be arrogant. They have been designed to stop customers from accessing staff. They have been designed to confidently execute a small number of straightforward tasks.
Humble automation knows when to triage an issue to a human expert. It

  • recognises when it doesn’t know enough to solve the problem,
  • identifies when an unusual situation occurs that needs out-of-the-box thinking, and
  • realizes when the customer has become emotional or confused and needs a human touch.

Humble automation requires more than rules-based decisions. It is powered by artificial intelligence (AI) that has been trained to do more than merely make decisions. AI can learn to recognise anomalies, identify confused customers, and quantify the certainty and safety of a decision. Humble AI can triage an issue to a human expert, and tell that expert why the AI needed help.

How humble is your automation system? How humble is your AI system?