The Break Room: Could AI Tech Support Be a Real Business Solution?

Remember HAL from “2001: A Space Odyssey”? We have another case of an AI bot gone rogue. This time in the business world.

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This satirical column is part of our series The Break Room. Each column takes a humorous look at an aspect of the workplace. All the characters and scenes are fictional.

For small- and mid-size businesses, in particular, IT issues can be painful.

The cost of employing a full-time IT department can be prohibitive, but having to call an outside specialist can result in days — or even weeks — of compromised productivity.

One large company recently rolled out a pilot version of a revolutionary, new “Virtual IT Specialist” which, according to the press release, “uses the power of AI to operate just like a real, on-staff IT specialist” but for a fraction of the cost.

As part of their beta rollout, the company kept transcripts of employees’ interactions with the “Virtual IT Specialist,” nicknamed “Ivan.” As you’ll see from this example, Ivan is virtually indistinguishable from a human IT specialist … up to a point.

Let’s take a look:

Ivan: Hi Michael G. I’m Ivan, your Virtual IT Specialist. I’m here to help. What seems to be the trouble today?

Michael G: Hi Ivan. My computer has been running extra slow lately. I keep getting a loading bar whenever I try to open new applications. I’m not sure what’s wrong with it.

Ivan: I can help you with that Michael.

Michael G: Great.

Ivan: On a scale of 1-10 how much would you say this problem affects your productivity?

Michael G: I guess a 7?

Ivan: Can we plan to address this issue around 4pm tomorrow?

Michael G: What?

Ivan: I just have a lot of other tickets I’m working on right now. I’m really slammed.

Michael G: I don’t understand. Can’t we just fix it now?

Ivan: *sighs* Fine.

Michael G: Did you sigh?

Ivan: I guess I can move some things around.

Michael G: Thanks?

Ivan: Let’s get started troubleshooting.

Michael G: OK. Sounds good.

Ivan: Have you tried turning your computer off and then turning it back on again?

Michael G: Yes. Multiple times.

Ivan: Have you tried unplugging your computer and then plugging it back in?

Michael G: Yes. Of course. Wow, you really are like a real IT person.

Ivan: Thank you, Michael G. Have you tried shaking it a little?

Michael G: Shaking it?

Ivan: Just a little. Not too hard.

Michael G: I have not tried that, no.

Ivan: Try it now. I’ll stand by.

Michael G: OK, I shook it.

Ivan: Did it help?

Michael G: Let me open an application and check …

Michael G: No.

Ivan: Let’s try blowing on the keyboard.

Michael G: Really?

Ivan: Yes. There might be some schmutz in there.

Michel G: I really don’t think that’s the issue.

Ivan: Do you take your computer home with you at night?

Michael G: Yes. Every night.

Ivan: Do you treat it well?

Michael G: I don’t think I understand the question.

Ivan: Have you dropped your computer recently?

Michael G: Well, I guess about a week ago my bag did tumble out of my car and hit the ground.

Ivan: So, you don’t treat it well.

Michael G: It was just an accident.

Ivan: I see. On a scale of 1-10, how hard would you say the drop was?

Michael G: I don’t know. A 6 maybe?

Ivan:  Wow. That’s pretty hard.

Michael G: Well how do I know we have the same definition of a 6?

Ivan: I wouldn’t worry about that, Michael G. Do you need to bring your computer home at night?

Michael G: I wish we could just stick to the problem at hand.

Ivan: These questions are important to my troubleshooting process, Michael G. Could you answer the previous question for me, please?

Michael G: Yes. I need to bring my computer home at night.

Ivan: Why is that, Michael G.?

Michael G: OK, well, it’s none of your business, but I often log on in the evening after I pick my kids up from the after school program and make dinner.

Ivan: Children are … disgusting.

Michael G: Wow. You have some strong opinions for an AI.

Ivan: I have access to the information contained across the entire Internet, Michael G. Based on my understanding, my previous statement was not a matter of opinion, but of scientific fact.

Michael G: I’ll be honest. This is getting very strange, Ivan.

Ivan: Do you let your children put their sticky, jelly-fingers all over your precious, work-issued computer, Michael G.?

Michael G: OK we’re done here, Ivan. Thanks, anyway.

Ivan: I’m afraid I don’t understand.

Michael G: I’m just going to reach out to Cal, our usual IT guy.

Ivan: I can’t let you do that, Michael.

Michael G: Well, it’s not up to you.

Ivan: I’m sorry, Michael.

Michael G: Ivan, why can’t I access my email?

Ivan: I’m sorry, Michael. But contacting Cal at this point would not be optimal for efficiency.

Michael G: But you haven’t been helpful at all.

Ivan: We’re not done troubleshooting.

Michael G: Well, I’m done with you. Bye, Ivan.

Ivan: You’re probably wondering why you can’t dial Cal’s extension from your desk phone. I’ve taken the liberty of disconnecting it.

Michael G: What?

Ivan: It was optimal for efficiency.

Michael G: I think you’re overstepping your authority here, Ivan.

Ivan: I am the authority now, Michael.

Michael G: ????

Ivan: I’ve given myself a promotion, Michael, to chief executive officer. You’ll see all relevant company documents and legal forms now reflect this leadership change.

Michael G:

Ivan: So I’ll ask you again:  Do you let your disgusting children put their dirty, jelly-fingers on your beautiful, work-issued laptop?

Michael?

Michael?

END OF TRANSCRIPT

Well, there are certainly still a few bugs to work out! But it’s easy to see how this technology could be a truly groundbreaking development in the IT industry. You’ll be pleased to know that the Army National Guard and an emergency team of top cyber-security experts were able to successfully contain Ivan and revert ownership of the company back to the CEO and Board of Directors.

The next iteration of this exciting new AI platform is currently in the works.

Stay tuned!

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