There was an interesting interview with Peter Lee, Head of Microsoft Research, on Bloomberg TV this week. He was talking about developments in artificial intelligence, the research area currently receiving the most investment.

The key role of artificial intelligence at the moment, according to Lee, is understanding and predicting people’s intentions and then carrying them out. This means basically answering the question ‘Why?’. For example, ’smart’ elevators sense what people are going to do and carry their function accordingly. Peter Lee didn’t seem to realise how chilling his vision of the future was: ’You can imagine a world where there are sensors all around you’. Rather, he concentrated on the practical; we see people as ‘operating computers’ but in the future, we’d like computers ‘to work on your behalf’. Avatars are designed to help users make connections with machines.

There was a slight disconnect, however, when it came to exactly why this was useful and why people needed virtual assistants. The Bloomberg presenter joked that Scarlett Johnasson was his top choice for his avatar, Lee laughed saying he would choose his dog.

Artificial intelligence and virtual assistants are meant to make life easier. But here’s the crux. When emotional intelligence and social skills are so important in the service industry, can robots ever really be the right way to do this? This brings to mind the idea of the ‘uncanny valley’, a term to describe the unease a human can experience the more a robot resembles a human. So, can an avatar ever make anyone feel at ease and effectively communicate the values of a brand? This is particularly important when brands are increasingly revolving around the people that represent them.

It is undeniable that virtual assistants and artificial intelligence are also attractive as a means of cutting costs. However, video assistants also ensure you can service all of the outposts of your brand from a central location and do so 24/7. The Vgreet also acts as an information hub regards the events going on in the building, transport links and the local area so you get the best of both worlds: information and help at your finger tips as well as face-to-face friendly service.