As 2014 races into the home straight, a new artificially intelligent computer system has been unveiled with the promise of transforming the global workforce. She's called Amelia.
Named after the American aviator and pioneer Amelia Earhart, the intelligent system is designed around the idea that it can shoulder tedious and labour-intensive tasks, freeing up its human co-workers to focus on more creative opportunities.
Amelia has been created by IPsoft, a New York based company whose ethos revolved around automating IT processes for enterprise across a wide range of industries.
"Amelia, our cognitive knowledge worker, interfaces on human terms," reads IPsoft's blog (opens in new tab) introducing the new technology. "She is a virtual agent who understands what people ask – even what they feel – when they call for service.
Like a human, she learns through written instructions. However, the difference is that Amelia will absorb the information she reads (across 20 languages) in a matter of seconds. She can also use context, applied logic and inferred implications to understand the full meaning of what she reads rather than just individual words.
When exposed to new information, she will apply what she already knows to solve problems across a broad range of business processes. IPsoft also claims that she can observe the work of her human colleagues and use what she sees to keep building her knowledge.
It's an interesting step forward for the AI industry. Intelligence is, by definition, the ability to not just acquire but to apply knowledge. A truly intelligent system shouldn't just be able to read a document, but it should be able to understand and answer questions on it too.
IPsoft recognises this, and has been working on Amelia's technology for 15 years with the core premise that she will not merely mimic human thought processes – she should be able to comprehend their underlying meaning too.
According to the Telegraph (opens in new tab), so far Amelia has been trialled "within a number of Fortune 1000 companies." Here she has successfully helped staff helplines, taken control of procurement processing, financial trading operations support, and provided "expert advice" for field engineers.
By the end of a two month trial period, she was able to answer 64 per cent of queries independently with the figure set to rise month-on-month as she learns more.
Amelia is the latest in a string of AI breakthroughs. In February 2011, IBM Watson used a powerful concoction of intelligent skills including natural language processing, knowledge representation, reasoning and machine learning to beat two Jeopardy champions at their own game.
A year later in 2012, Google combined the power of 16,000 processors to achieve the ultimate goal of human intelligence: correctly identifying cats in YouTube videos.
More practically, Microsoft's Kinect system and voice assistants like Cortana and Apple's Siri are all built around artificial intelligence research. IPsoft's claim that the next few decades will see the advent of tangible androids wandering office corridors is a debate for another article, but clearly the notion of intelligent software systems is already being realised.