To my friend Maria: artificial intelligence is here to make you more human

October 23, 2017 Dan Turchin

This is a story about Maria. She works in a call center in the Philippines. Maria helps John Deere’s 60,000 global employees reset passwords and upgrade to the latest version of Microsoft Office twenty times a day.

Maria Delarosa: more human than ever thanks to AI

Maria’s employer, Cognizant, is the largest global outsourcer of IT services. Maria works alongside 350 call center agents who start work at midnight, break for a meal at 4:00 AM, and send their last email at 9:00 AM.

Maria has two kids, Edgardo (6) and Lupita (9) in elementary school and a husband who is a construction worker in Manila. His proudest accomplishment: installing showers in the Gramercy Residences, the tallest building in the Philippines. Maria’s lifetime ambition is to not see the sun rise every morning from above the beveled edge of her 17” monitor. Ask Maria what she wants in life and she’ll tell you without hesitation “a better job for my kids.”

Many have it worse than Maria. Many have it better. She has become a machine, programmed to read from a script and coached to enunciate artificially to hide her accent. She was once sent to the shift supervisor for trilling the “r” in “PowerPoint” so it sounded like “Pow-airrr-Point”. Two more demerits like that and she’ll be relegated to the back office processing invoices and earning half of what she earns today.

Maria was recently trained to use a new feature in her ticketing console. It shows her how to fix issues based on the caller’s location, problem description, and ticket history. All she does now is click the link the system displays and “like magic” she can fix the problem. Answers that used to take minutes to find and often weren’t correct now “just appear on the screen and they’re always right.”

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Maria’s not a religious woman but as we were discussing the changes, she lit up like the night sky over Malacanang Palace on Aquino day and called it her “God feature”. It saves her six to eight minutes per issue. She doesn’t know it but it’s always right because it learns from ten million related incidents and uses a neural network with proximity-based word embedding to make the right recommendation.

Maria could care less. What matters is she can now resolve 25 issues per day. That 20% increase in her accuracy and productivity makes her eligible for a raise… the first time she’s ever been recognized for exceptional performance.

Maria is why we started Neva. Life can be better for her. She can spend less time being a robot. She can see the sun rise from Edgardo’s bedside. Maria: artificial intelligence is here to make you more human.


To my friend Maria: artificial intelligence is here to make you more human was originally published in Machine Learnings on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

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