Robotic employee to deliver front line public services for the first time
A robotic employee will be deployed instead of human council workers to deliver frontline public services for the first time it is believed.
Enfield council, hit with budget cuts and job losses, has bought an American artificial intelligence programme that can makes its own choices and track customers’ emotions.
The AI answers residents’ questions “as a human would” and can hold thousands of conversations at once.
It is the first time IPSoft’s model, called Amelia, has been used by the British public sector, with one survey suggesting robotic task automation is 60 per cent cheaper than every human worker. The AI, already used by professional services giant Accenture, will be deployed on the Labour-run council’s website this autumn.
The “cognitive agent” also answers customer queries for banks and gas firms, helps on an IT service desk and advises mortgage brokers.
Amelia will “diagnose and resolve problems” for Enfield residents and “sense what’s happening” through learning and actions. It will guide residents on-screen via a chat features, and is available in text and as a talking digital avatar.
Enfield plans to use Amelia to help residents with internet access find information and complete forms. But if Amelia cannot answer a question, it calls in a human colleague and learns from them.
But its purchase follows nearly 350 redundancies at Enfield council in the past year and has raised fears further jobs are at risk. Officials approved funding for the project under delegated powers but without discussion in the council’s committees.
Enfield repeatedly refused to say how much was paid for the software. The council needs to save £56 million by 2020, after already suffering £118 million of government cuts.
Chetan Dube, president of IPsoft, has said Amelia was not about “replacing labour with cheaper labour, but replacing labour with cognitive systems – to be able to answer a question as a human would understand it”.
James Rolfe, Enfield’s director of finance, resources and customer services, said: “The customer shouldn’t see they are interacting with a digital agent, it should be a seamless experience.”
Mr Rolfe added there were “no plans” to sack any of its 50 call centre workers but he gave no guarantees. Jo Laban, deputy leader of Enfield’s opposition Conservative Group, said: “There has been no discussion about this whatsoever in Enfield and the implications could be enormous.
“There looks like there will be a serious impact on service provision and potentially job losses. Residents want interaction with real people who can empathise with concerns, not AI.”