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AI UMA says it's good to talk in the workplace

Inspect-a-Gadget heads to London Tech Week to meet UMA, a conversational AI chatbot for the workplace.

“It’s good to talk,” assured Bob Hoskins in the famous ’90s ads. The campaign – credited with delivering £5 billion during its run – helped ease the transition from British Telecom to BT, from telephony monolith to consumer-friendly conversation facilitator.

Today it is Apple, Amazon and Microsoft who are trying to convince us of the merits of conversation. What Siri, Alexa and Cortana lack in heart-of-gold cockney gruffness, they more than compensate for in how they make technology accessible to a broader audience.

While this may ring true for the home, however, the battle for conversational AI in the workplace has yet to begin in earnest.

One smart office assistant currently prepping its CV with it sights set on corporate domination is UMA, on show for the first time at London Tech Week last week. UMA is a digital assistant – very much in the spirit of Siri or Alexa – that connects employees to business applications via a single, user-friendly conversational interface. Its strength is its ease of integration with devices and systems, including Salesforce and Dropbox.

Inspect-a-Gadget spoke to ISDM, the UK-based team behind UMA:

So, interactions such as:

“Hey UMA, book me that meeting room on the third floor”
“Hey UMA, what Chris Smith’s extension?”
“Hey UMA, the light-bulb in the men’s room has blown. Again.”

become possible, and more depending upon how and what your IT department choose to plug into UMA’s interface.

It’s still early days for conversational AIs and chatbots, but a growing market in both the business and consumer spaces suggests there’s strong interest. If one of the visions of an AI future is that some human roles get made redundant, UMA may soon have a few admin assistants picking up the phone and calling around for a new job…

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