Assistant to the Assistant: Breaking down the AI hype

Like any EA/PA, I’m not averse to multi-tasking. You’ll often find me sitting at my desk working on one thing, whilst on my phone Googling another. The other day was one of those days. Whilst trying to churn out some minutes I was posed with the question by a colleague of what the dress code was of the restaurant we would be attending that evening. Not wanting to stop what I was doing I reluctantly called out, “Hey Siri” and decided to get ‘my assistant’ on the job. Knowing that this was probably going to take me longer than what it would to Google, surprisingly Siri came through with the goods (and without the ‘back and forth’ that I anticipated!). But as she told me that the restaurant had a “no denim and no thongs” policy, I overheard one of my team mates having a bit of a chuckle behind me to his fellow colleague. “An EA using an EA!” he snickered, “like she needs her own assistant!….”, he laughed. I wasn’t amused, but also wasn’t surprised. In the last two days, I kid you not, I think I’d read at least five articles around how AI was going to take over the EA/PA role. One of the articles had even been written by a fellow EA blogger. At the time I had thought, “really? Is this really where we’re heading?” One article in particular had quoted that in the next three years AI WOULD take over all EA ‘workers’ and that we SHOULD be preparing for the worst. Now clearly this blogger was suggesting that unless assistants actually step up and further educate themselves to reach that more sophisticated ‘Business Partner’ role, then we pretty much should be quivering in our boots. It was suggested that for those that are just fronting up to work each day and doing the bare minimum and nothing more, then they can expect their roles to ultimately be made redundant, and dare I say it, taken over by robots. Now whether that’s true or not, will remain to be seen, but one thing’s for sure, it’s definitely the topic of the moment.

Personally, I think a complete switch to AI seems futuristic, but the reality is, some major brands are already benefiting from AI using chatbots, voice assistants, and other smart systems. And whilst these well-known brands are already progressing largely with AI and as efficient as they might be at doing some tasks, they’re still a long way from being able to replace people. Surprisingly however, a report done by PWC recently claimed that because of these new technological introductions, potentially 38% of American and 30% of UK jobs could all be at risk in the future, with some claiming even more than this. Michael McQueen, a Sydney-based speaker, business strategist and trend forecaster, told recently that the next decade would see unprecedented change both in Australia and around the globe and that 47% of current professional roles could potentially disappear within the next 15 years. His view, like many others, centred around futureproofing careers by focusing on things that technology couldn’t do well, things that are uniquely human like empathy, creativity and instinct. But as assistants, the million-dollar question is, should we be embracing this technology to be more efficient, or should we be avoiding it like the plague to prove our uniquely human worth?

There are many digital assistant-like tools available now that many are using to be more efficient, the most common being Siri, Alexa and Google Home. Now I’m sure my experiences with Siri and Alexa are no different to others – sometimes they’re helpful, and sometimes they’re not! Like when I ask Siri what the weather is going to be each morning – very helpful! And then other times when you feel like throwing Siri across the room from sheer frustration because she can’t even tell you what time your first meeting is in your calendar tomorrow morning! But voice assistants aren’t the be all and end all of AI, although presumably they will be the biggest threat to our roles in the future. With the technology improving, or at least trying to, Google still claims 98% accuracy with their voice recognition and spent up to $30b on AI alone in 2016! So, should we be fearful that these voice recognition assistants will take over, leaving our role for dead? Well the study done by revealed that 72% of business executives are currently using digital assistants for some of their tasks, and another 31% of them believe that virtual personal assistants will have the largest impact on their business in years to come. Definitely some interesting statistics!

This whole AI thing is really a bit of a catch 22 situation though, as if we start embracing this technology, will we in fact be showing others its value and worth and potentially demonstrating that our roles could easily be done by AI? But with all this technology at our fingertips, it ultimately allows us to be more efficient and gives us the ability to take on more responsibility, demonstrating how valuable we really are! Now I’m a huge advocate of utilising whatever tools and technology is at your fingertips, if it is in fact going to make things more efficient for you (and not have you going around in circles like Siri often will have you doing), and with so many new apps and digital products coming on the market, it really is in our best interests to ensure we’re across them and essentially utilising them wherever there is a good fit.

As an industry, it benefits us to share in the technology that does fit our industry and as such I thought I would share with you all a new app on the market that does just that. As assistants, we all know that on any given day we can get asked to run an errand as simple as popping out to pick up some morning tea for the team, to something as annoying as doing a trip to the airport to collect your boss’ iPad that ‘accidently’ got left on the plane.  A couple of weeks ago I had the privilege of being introduced to Blair Smith, founder and CEO of GoFetch. Originally known as MyPA, GoFetch is the new go-to app on the market that allows you to have a ‘Fetcher’ pick up anything and everything, at any time of the day, for a minimal cost. Unlike traditional courier companies, GoFetch is a bit like Uber for things – with a huge fleet of ‘Fetchers’ on the books. You book your job, it’s seen by thousands of Fetchers, picked up by the closest in the area using their own transport and delivered to the nominated location in your nominated time frame. Unlike traditional courier companies that have limitations on contracts, job volumes, the type of items and even delivery time frames, GoFetch allows you to track your Fetcher in real time as they pick up or deliver your item and even chat with them along the way.  With the tagline “Deliver your life back”, it couldn’t be more accurate. We all know we’re on call outside of traditional working hours – so is GoFetch. And with all this doom and gloom looming over our heads that AI will take over, it’s more important than ever now to show how valuable we are! There are never enough hours in the day to get everything done that we need to, but with the ability to essentially delegate out your errands, in a more cost-effective way than a traditional courier company, you’re opening yourself up to the bigger responsibilities, that essentially come with that ‘Business Partner’ role and title. So why not give away the dry cleaning and the odd drop offs of things to the boss’ house, and focus on the project work, I say.

As I was writing this blog, I asked Blair, as a developer of one of these technologies that is changing the face of our industry, what his take was on artificial intelligence and whether he thought it would actually ever take over the EA/PA role in the future. His response was simple, “you can’t take the P out of PA!”, which I LOVE and goes back to the argument that the roles that are uniquely human will always be required. “There are a lot of intangible and human factors included in a working relationship with an Office Manager, Personal Assistant or Executive Assistant” he explained, “and these will not be easily replaced by technology.” He agreed with me in that “there are still many years ahead for us where technology will complement the PA/EA role, without it necessarily being taken over”. So why not use GoFetchto pick up your boss’ tux for that up-coming Gala ball, or use apps like Skip to pre-order the coffees and have them ready and waiting when you arrive at the café? “The use of these technologies is not tantamount to the replacement of a PA/EA’s role. On the contrary, they make the PA/EA look good!” Blair explains. With so many new tools out there at our disposal now, if you do some research and look for the some good recommendations to choose the right ones, these AI’s and technologies should be helpful to us rather than a hindrance. So, with all the doom and gloom that our roles will be no longer, quite frankly I’m over all the hype. Blair sums it up perfectly, “they (AI) can add genuine value very quickly and make for a wonderful, cheap and effective out-sourced labour model that allows the EA to be on site and on call for the more pressing and human elements of their role, whilst tapping into the emerging sharing economy for the leg work. The careful selection of some good apps and technologies could make a good EA indispensable”. Blair, you couldn’t be more right.


Please note: The above article originally appeared on on May 22, 2018.

Assistant to the Assistant: Breaking down the AI hype