The Mechanical Turk was the world’s first AI hoax. Unveiled in 1770, the self-operating machine appeared to be able to play a strong game of chess against a human opponent. Over 80 years ‘The Turk’, as it became known, won most of the games it played, defeating many challengers including Napoleon Bonaparte and Benjamin Franklin. The Turk was in fact a mechanical illusion, with a human chess master hiding in the cabinet beneath, controlling the movements of a humanoid dummy above. “My name’s Napoleon and I just got punk’d.”
With digital avatars becoming indistinguishable from their human counterparts, will the Mechanical Turk system be revitalised and refurbished? Will the future of work see humans hiding inside the chess box, sending out artificial versions of themselves to ‘play chess’ all over the universes?
Today, intelligent virtual assistants, or IVAs, augment the human workforce by performing a wide range of tasks. They schedule meetings, take care of customer service and other B2B roles, such as helping with registrations and re-engaging leads. IVA departments within companies span multiple languages, geographies and time zones. They have their own identity and feature on the internal company phone lists and staffing organograms. They are an army of indispensable virtual colleagues.