Your next coworker may be an algorithmic teammate with a virtual face.
What’s new: WorkFusion unveiled a line of AI tools that automate daily business tasks. One thing that sets them apart is the marketing pitch: Each has a fictitious persona including a name, face (and accompanying live-action video), and professional résumé.
How it works: WorkFusion offers a cadre of six systems it touts as virtual teammates. Each is dedicated to a role such as customer service coordinator and performs rote tasks such as entering data or extracting information from documents. At this point, their personas are superficial — they don’t affect a system’s operation, just the way it’s presented to potential customers.

  • The algorithms are trained using seven years’ worth of data from WorkFusion’s prior robotic process automation software.
  • As they work, they can ask a human worker for aid when facing unfamiliar tasks and improve themselves based on the response.
  • The company accumulates information from various deployments and improves the algorithms using fusion learning, a variation on federated learning that enhances privacy and cuts bandwidth requirements by transmitting data distribution parameters rather than the data points themselves. In this way, one customer’s data is not shared, but all deployments benefit from the algorithm’s experience in aggregate.

Behind the news: WorkFusion’s virtual teammates are examples of robotic process automation (RPA), which automates office work by interacting with documents like spreadsheets and email. The RPA market is expected to grow 25 percent annually, reaching $7.5 billion by 2028.

Yes, but: Giving AI systems a persona raises the questions why a particular role was assigned to a particular sort of person and whether that persona reinforces undesirable social stereotypes. For instance, a  2019 United Nations report criticized voice assistants such as Amazon’s Alexa for using female voices as a default setting.
Why it matters: People already anthropomorphize cars, guitars, and Roombas. Wherever people and AI work together closely, it may make sense to humanize the technology with a name and face, a practice that’s already common in the chatbot biz. Just watch out for the uncanny valley — a creepy realm populated by unsettling, nearly-but-not-quite-human avatars.
We’re thinking: These virtual teammates are no match for HAL 9000, but we hope they’ll open the pod bay doors when you ask them to.

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