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Virtual assistant for Skype

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Intervate has released ROBIT, a locally-developed virtual personal assistant (VPA), enabling organisations to extract more value from Microsoft’s recently launched Skype for Business.

Skype for Business, recently re-branded from the previous name of Microsoft Lync, facilitates instant messaging and live online meetings for multiple colleagues within a company – via video, audio, or text-based chat.

ROBIT leverages the Skype for Business platform to act as a company-wide virtual personal assistant for all employees within an organisation.

These could range from simple tasks like booking meeting rooms or resetting account passwords, to more complex queries that dive into line-of-business systems – such as one’s Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) or Customer Relationship Management (CRM) solution.

Using the text chat feature of Skype for Business, interactions are as quick and simple as any other form of instant messaging (like WhatsApp for example).

Best of all, ROBIT has a quirky and sometimes irreverent personality. She can serve up jokes on request; or reply with cheeky responses like “we don’t have any meeting rooms with a time machine”, if one accidently tries to book a meeting room for a date that’s already passed.

These light-hearted aspects help bring a human-like touch to each interaction, making it fun to engage with ROBIT. It assists in taking the drudgery out of trawling through complex line-of-business systems, which often have less-friendly user interfaces or require additional user access licences.

ROBIT can be customised within any environment, and taught to learn how to perform specific tasks. So, the next time a staff member has the same request, ROBIT is able to deal with the query.

Bruce Williams, ROBIT Product Manager at Intervate, emphasises the importance of this innovation: “Organisations are increasingly looking to automation as a way of becoming more agile and responsive to their customers. ROBIT is an easy-to-use business process tool – designed to speed up many of the simple operational tasks that can consume much of one’s day.”

“She’s always available, always replies instantly, and always provides accurate responses to any queries”.

With fairly straightforward integration, ROBIT is able to draw information from any form of line of business system. Most commonly, information sourced by ROBIT is housed in one’s ERP, CRM and Intranet environments, but it can be plugged into any system.

Williams explains that ROBIT is another illustration of the close partnership between Microsoft and Intervate. As a multi-award winning partner over the past few years (most-recently, Intervate was named South Africa’s Microsoft Partner of the Year for 2015), the two companies have enjoyed a long-standing relationship in Africa.

“From our origins of deploying Microsoft SharePoint to delivering content management services to local clients, we’re now evolving into other areas – like Microsoft Dynamics CRM, Microsoft Azure, Skype for Business and the Internet of Things.”

Intervate will be extending a free one year ROBIT license to all existing clients.

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CES: Most useless gadgets of all

Choosing the best of show is a popular pastime, but the worst gadgets of CES also deserve their moment of infamy, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.

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It’s fairly easy to choose the best new gadgets launched at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas last week. Most lists – and there are many – highlight the LG roll-up TV, the Samsung modular TV, the Royole foldable phone, the impossible burger, and the walking car.

But what about the voice assisted bed, the smart baby dining table, the self-driving suitcase and the robot that does nothing? In their current renditions, they sum up what is not only bad about technology, but how technology for its own sake quickly leads us down the rabbit hole of waste and futility.

The following pick of the worst of CES may well be a thinly veneered attempt at mockery, but it is also intended as a caution against getting caught up in hype and justification of pointless technology.

1. DUX voice-assisted bed

The single most useless product launched at CES this year must surely be a bed with Alexa voice control built in. No, not to control the bed itself, but to manage the smart home features with which Alexa and other smart speakers are associated. Or that any smartphone with Siri or Google Assistant could handle. Swedish luxury bedmaker DUX thinks it’s a good idea to manage smart lights, TV, security and air conditioning through the bed itself. Just don’t say Alexa’s “wake word” in your sleep.

2. Smart Baby Dining Table 

Ironically, the runner-up comes from a brand that also makes smart beds: China’s 37 Degree Smart Home. Self-described as “the world’s first smart furniture brand that is transforming technology into furniture”, it outdid itself with a Smart Baby Dining Table. This isa baby feeding table with a removable dining chair that contains a weight detector and adjustable camera, to make children’s weight and temperature visible to parents via the brand’s app. Score one for hands-off parenting.

Click here to read about smart diapers, self-driving suitcases, laundry folders, and bad robot companions.

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CES: Tech means no more “lost in translation”

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Talking to strangers in foreign countries just got a lot easier with recent advancements in translation technology. Last week, major companies and small startups alike showed the CES technology expo in Las Vegas how well their translation worked at live translation.

Most existing translation apps, like Bixby and Siri Translate, are still in their infancy with live speech translation, which brings about the need for dedicated solutions like these technologies:

Babel’s AIcorrect pocket translator

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The AIcorrect Translator, developed by Beijing-based Babel Technology, attracted attention as the linguistic king of the show. As an advanced application of AI technology in consumer technology, the pocket translator deals with problems in cross-linguistic communication. 

It supports real-time mutual translation in multiple situations between Chinese/English and 30 other languages, including Japanese, Korean, Thai, French, Russian and Spanish. A significant differentiator is that major languages like English being further divided into accents. The translation quality reaches as high as 96%.

It has a touch screen, where transcription and audio translation are shown at the same time. Lei Guan, CEO of Babel Technology, said: “As a Chinese pathfinder in the field of AI, we designed the device in hoping that hundreds of millions of people can have access to it and carry out cross-linguistic communication all barrier-free.” 

Click here to read about the Pilot, Travis, Pocketalk, Google and Zoi translators.

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