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Tyneside firm will replace call centre workers with robots

Posted on Jun 18 2009
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A FIRM which aims to replace call centre workers with artificially intelligent "robots" will open a sales and marketing centre in the region later this year, before ambitious plans to create scores of jobs.
 
Newcastle company Artingence has developed software agents which sound and respond like real people and can even be customised with regional accents – including Geordie – to suit their target customer.
 
The business was born out of the International Centre for Life in Newcastle last year but has since moved its 15 employees into larger premises on Mosley Street as it prepares to enter the market in the new year. It will initially create about 25 jobs as it sets up a commercial division in the North East and is currently in discussions with council representatives in Derwentside, Newcastle and Sunderland to secure a site.
 
It then has ambitious plans over the following three years to take on hundreds of workers as it sells the concept around the world.
 
Meanwhile the technology will be trialled later this year by a local government organisation and a call centre operator, both in the North East.
 
It has also attracted interest from a call centre operator in India, and plans have already been drawn up to create agents which can speak and understand Indian languages. The technology has been billed as a call centre in a box and will see teams of about a dozen artificially intelligent agents operating via a computer run by a human team leader.
 
In order to iron out potential problems, such as the misunderstanding of slang terms, the software is set up to allow for immediate adjustments to be made to the agents’ vocabulary.
 
According to Artingence, the software will help bring overseas call centres back to the UK, albeit with fewer staff.
 
Chairman and technical director Karl Dorner, who helped build the European arm of global call centre giant Convergys, said: “We expect to bring jobs back to the UK. People who have been forced to do out-sourcing due to cost issues will be able to bring the call centres back to the UK.”
 
He also said the technology is far more advanced than current automated call centre services such as those used by banks to take telephone payments.
 
“The ‘agents’ will be able to talk to you about your mobile phone, upgrading it, renewing your contract or changing your plan.
 
“You will be able to tell that it is a computerised voice, but we have done research which tells us that people don’t mind talking to a computer if it understands them and can help them.”
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