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IBM's Virtual Helpdesk For The Masses

timothy posted more than 12 years ago | from the marvin-the-robot dept.

IBM 122

An Anonymous Coward writes: "From the NYtimes: IBM has recently announced AI that supposedly can handle 20,000 simultaneous 'Help Desk Requests.' Per the release not only can it handle complaints in normal prose (typed, not spoken), but also fix them. Will wonders never cease -- a robot to tell me which key is the 'any' key?! ... Please let this be more than Ask Jeeves."

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i hope (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#82301)

that this is worthwhile. seriously though how do uncertified folks filter into the industry if not throught he helpdesk?

any key? (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#82302)

No, that's the NE key. It's bassed on NT Techonology and is located just east of NNE as indicated by the WinSoc technology technology..

If that's not intuitive, I don't know what is. You've got the start button, you've got the flag button, get your bearings and call me in the morning.

Re:Link, etc (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#82303)

Actually, it works pretty well, when you consider the mix of reasons that a real help desk would get called. I am an IBMer. Our intranet is so large and diverse -- our applications servers are scattered everywhere -- that one network error can make apps look unavailable. This system is pretty useful. Instead of spending idle time on hold status on the telephone, the system will assign your complaint a ticket number, and a tech support specialist will answer you by e-mail, usually pretty quickly. If the complaint is a network outage someplace, or affects the IBM intranet-wide, you'll be told so. If not, they handle your inquiry just as well as if it had been received by telephone. I imagine the tech support people actually LIKE not getting the same old calls over and over again ... now they just ship out e-mails. This system is coupled with a central web page that displays network and server outages -- and major outstanding ticket numbers -- so that those who can actually interpret these things can even avoid filing a complaint in the first place. Personally, I didn't like this at first; but it's really working out pretty well. If you're one of those users that doesn't like interacting with a web page, there's always the phone, which they haven't disconnected (yet).

Re:It's NOT Artificial Intelligence (2)

CaseyB (1105) | more than 12 years ago | (#82304)

What is the "official" definition of AI? Get off your high horse lest you become as bad as those pretentious elitist cyber/extropian/digerati/Mondo 2000 wankers.

BOFH (5)

SiliconJesus (1407) | more than 12 years ago | (#82305)

eLiza: Hello BOFH, there are 4,204 Help desk tickets in the Queue, should I process them now
BOFH: No eLiza - have you been feeling well recently, run a diag, then pipe the output to /dev/rdsk/c0t0d0s2
eLiza: running the following command... eLiza.diag > /dev/rdsk/c0t0d0s2
eLiza: ...
BOFH: (thinking) *fix* annoying helpdesk problem - check

Secret windows code

Re:Yeah, and? (3)

sphealey (2855) | more than 12 years ago | (#82306)

"From the article, it sounds like this doesn't provide just an automated answer, but an automated fix. So instead of telling users how to add a printer, it will actually go in and configure the software on the users machine! In the future, they even plan on automating OS patches."

Yeah, I can just see it now. A vistor from a remote office or small division shows up, plugs into the network, printing doesn't work, so he contacts this AI. The AI notes a problem and helpfully downloads all kinds of fixes for Microsoft-based printing, blowing away the carefully crafted Novell/Linux/other-OS printing system that IT has spent years tuning to perfection. Yep, that'll be the cat's pajamas.


Re:What is AI? (2)

Oestergaard (3005) | more than 12 years ago | (#82307)

There's no clear definition - anyone is of course free to come up with their own clear definition, a privilege many exploit and enjoy.

Simple searching - for example, finding an element in a balanced tree, is artificial intelligence. Unless, of course, you're talking about another kind of artificial intelligence, which you may well be depending on who you're talking to.

Often people who don't have a clue too often makes the context of such a discussion imply that A.I. is not "artificial" intelligence, but "human" intelligence - meaning, self awareness, initiative, improvisation, etc.

Get over it. A.I. is a term that can be used to designate a very wide range of problem solving algorithms and systems. Anything from simple graph search to neural networks and what not are covered.

Just know, that depending on who you're talking to, A.I. may well be confused with H.I.

AskPSP (2)

Pseudonymus Bosch (3479) | more than 12 years ago | (#82308)

Are you talking about AskPSP? It was kind of a expert system that asked you questions and eliminated answers until it got a small number.

It was included with OS/2 4 so that you could find the answers to the problems that Warp 3 and were solved in Warp 4. Great.

The previous version did more complaints... (4)

Howie (4244) | more than 12 years ago | (#82309)

...that supposedly can handle 20,000 simultaneous 'Help Desk Requests.' Per the release not only can it handle complaints in normal prose (typed, not spoken), but also fix them.

The version that just takes complaints and doesn't fix them runs a whole lot quicker.

5 REM automated tech support, as used by Telewest
10 PRINT "My time is yours."
15 INPUT a$
20 PRINT "Oh dear - your ticket number is ";rand(300000)
30 GOTO 10

the telephone rings / problem between screen and chair / thoughts of homocide

Re:Yeah, and? (1)

Chris Hiner (4273) | more than 12 years ago | (#82310)

User: Help, I've forgotten my password again.
eLiza: What is your username?
User: root
eLiza: Ok, your password is "aybabtu"
User: Can you also tell me the password for username Administrator?
eLiza: Sure, that password is "sosuutb"
User: Thanks, you've been very helpful.

Yeah, and? (2)

cah1 (5152) | more than 12 years ago | (#82311)

Depending on the context, upwards 80% of all level one support contact is of the "password and printer" variety - dead easy questions which a suitably trained monkey can deal with.

Sure, it shows NLP is progressing - but it's more to do with the generally facile questions asked of support than the technology now available.

or as i like to call it... (1)

rtfm (8337) | more than 12 years ago | (#82312)


damn, it's things like this that take part of the fun out of my day.

Re:Thats about right (1)

Bob McCown (8411) | more than 12 years ago | (#82313)

20,000 requests? Bah, what I want to know is if it will stand up to a good Slashdotting....

Re:What is AI? (1)

Dan D. (10998) | more than 12 years ago | (#82314)

paranoid schitzophrenic (sp?)
no no PS is the acronym. And getting it backwards is dyslexic. :)

its a slow monday

eLiza (5)

griffjon (14945) | more than 12 years ago | (#82315)

You left out the name of the project!

IBM's Project eLiza technology, which Big Blue plans to release in batches over the next few years, is aimed at allowing large-capacity computer networks to run virtually unassisted.
The eLiza-enabled machines run background software that continuously monitors operations, sending warning messages to technicians when problems appear, said David Turek, vice president for deep computing at IBM's Somers, N.Y.-based Server Group.
"It sits and runs in the background and observes and draws conclusions," Turek said. "If medication doesn't work, it routes work around the ailing mechanism, then literally makes a phone call to the home of an employee and tells him the problem and the spare parts that are needed."
(From Wired [wired.com]

I can see it now:
*ring ring*
Tech: Hello?
eLiza: This is eLiza calling. The backup domain controller is reacting very slowly. I have determined that it is because of an Oedipal problem targetted at the tape backup server for the domain controller.
Tech: Call Joe, I cannot make it in
eLiza: Are you feeling inadequate? Tell me more about your father.
Tech: Look, the server's messing up, I can't come in, call Joe!
eLiza: There's no reason to get upset. How do you feel about call Joe?
Tech: Fine, I'll be there in half an hour. Reboot the backup domain controller in the meantime.
eLiza: rebooting the BDC will only delay your feelings of inadequacy towards Joe. Perhaps you'd like to tell me more about your half and hour?
Tech: *click*

Re:It's NOT Artificial Intelligence (1)

QuMa (19440) | more than 12 years ago | (#82317)

Expert systems are AI too. Not all AI will eventually evolve to a sentient being.

Automatic O/S fixing... (1)

Ratface (21117) | more than 12 years ago | (#82318)

In future releases, Turek said the software will automatically try to fix minor operating system problems without alerting a human.

So if you BSOD it'll reformat your harddrive and install Linux in Windows' place ;-)
"Give the anarchist a cigarette"

Thats about right (4)

lemming2 (27319) | more than 12 years ago | (#82320)

20,000 simultaneous requests? Thats just about right to handle windows support.

Re:It's NOT Artificial Intelligence (2)

zmooc (33175) | more than 12 years ago | (#82321)

Many definitions exist. I cite the 4 most common from "Artificial Intelligence - A modern approach" (by Stuart Russen & Peter Norvig):
  • Thinking like humans
  • Acting like humans
  • Thinking rationally
  • Acting rationally
The Turing test is only about acting humanly. So your statement about eLiza not being AI is only partially correct since there's no clear definition of AI. In my opinion the most `usefull' definition of AI should not have anything to do with acting humanly; acting humanly is only one sort of intelligence which is by no means the best. I think eLiza can be considered AI since it thinks rationally. And that's what it's all about; acting humanly is rather useless...if it only were for our emotions which can mess up the rational part really easy.

Vulcans? (1)

jTurbo (35048) | more than 12 years ago | (#82322)

David Turek, sure sounds vulcan to me. IBM employing vulcans, fascinating.

RinkWorks (4)

Monthenor (42511) | more than 12 years ago | (#82323)

I've read through the entire Computer Stupidities web site, and I think it's important that eLiza be updated to recognize some of the more empty-minded examples. I can imagine the red flags that go up when someone types that they're "having trouble downloading the Internet onto their floppy".

eLiza springs into action and immediately dispatches a support call to the HR director: "Error in employee [name]. Recommend replacing meatspace controller."

Oh, please... (1)

wiredog (43288) | more than 12 years ago | (#82325)

Like any regular slashdotter doesn't know the NY Times requires a logon. I've known it for years. If it bothers you, don't go there.

What is AI? (4)

wiredog (43288) | more than 12 years ago | (#82327)

I can't remember the name (Minsky?), but a few weeks ago one of the people who's been doing AI for awhile pointed out that whenever someone creates a system that can meet some of the definitions of AI, the definitions are changed. A system was created a few years ago that could imitate a paranoid schitzophrenic (sp?) well enough to fool practicing psychiatrists. Is that AI?

and other interesting dialogs (2)

anticypher (48312) | more than 12 years ago | (#82329)

I had written up an similar dialog, but once the lameness filter rejects your post, it claims the post was originally posted at the beginning of the unix epoch...

Easy does it! This comment has been submitted already, 276471 hours , 18 minutes ago. No need to try again.

it went a little something like this, but this is just based on being on both ends of a hell desk line :-P

[Luser]: It doesn't work

[HellDeskAI]: ##unknown-subject[It]## What doesn't work?

[L]: my machine is broken

[HDAI]: ##common-response## Have you rebooted your machine?

[L, 52 minutes later]: Yes, it still doesn't work


it was a long post, which had all the great /. inside jokes (AYB-filter-triggered-notifying-security, beowulf, anti-M$ rant), but /.ers can use their own imagination to fill in the rest.

the AC
who is tired of fighting the lameness filter on /.

Re:i hope (4)

slaker (53818) | more than 12 years ago | (#82330)

OK. I'm an MCSE. G'won. Get one. It's not terribly difficult - I finished my certification with six weeks of self study, which netted me almost a 50% pay increase over the next eightteen months.
It's worth the time and money.

When I'm working a job as "the linux guy" (or, more typically, "the Sun guy"), it's great to be able to whip out my MCSE ID card when the windows support people start spewing crap about how they think their machines work. Sometimes, that alone is worth the $900 I've paid to get and maintain my cert.

MCSEs are not exclusively clueless. In my experience, it has a lot to do with how the cert was obtained - the people that go for expensive training course are almost invariably idiots - they don't retain anything - and the value of the certification certainly has dropped becuase there's an awful lot of idiots in the world that can afford the $4995 it costs to go to a "boot camp". The really sharp guys - and we are out there - are the folks that took the time to learn the stuff ourselves, on our own.
In reply to the previous comment... Support is absolutely the tradition entry to the field, but there are other choices: new hardware rollouts, break/fix techs, and system operator roles (a job that usually doesn't even require a high school diploma) are also entry-level IT positions with no requirement for certification.

If you're really worried about breaking in, blow a couple hundred dollars on an A+ cert (even more worthless than MCSE) and Windows NT/2000 Workstation/Professional certifications. Someone will hire you for something, probably for around $15 - $18 an hour.

Re:Beyond abuse (4)

Tackhead (54550) | more than 12 years ago | (#82331)

> If everything fails, the expert system should contain questions about wether the user has modified the system in relevant ways.

And when the user says "no, I didn't change anything", it'll say "of course you did."

A real AI would be able to tell the difference between someone with a clue ("No, I really didn't change anything, asshole, I can connect, the modem trains, and then I can ping an IP address but I can't do DNS resolutions, SO IT HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH MY PHONE LINE, it has to do with either the router between my end and your DNS server, or if you're getting a million morons calling who can articulate nothing more than "my start page is broken!", then it probably is your friggin' DNS server") ...

...(whew, not that that's ever happened to me)...

...and someone who has no idea that running PrivacyInvader2.03.vbs that a complete stranger mailed them last night really does constitute a system change.

Of course, since neither this AI nor most front-line technical support are able to make this distinction, I suppose the AI passes the Turing test.

Come to think of it, the Turing Test is getting a lot simpler to pass these days, isn't it? (And it sure ain't because the AIs are getting smarter.)

Re:Real-World Practicality? (4)

Tackhead (54550) | more than 12 years ago | (#82332)

> I've seen 'natural language' tech support problem solver thingies before. LucasArts has had an 'Ask Yoda' for support on their games. Toshiba has 'Ask Iris." HP has a one too - ("How do I clear a paper jam?")
>But really, does anyone use these things? [...because they suck!]


Natural language is a good tool for humans - "How do I clear a paper jam" from one human to another, when you're standing in front of the office printer, is a very clear query.

I get angry at companies that try to hide their tech support databases behind natural-language crap online.

Lemme type "paper jam $MODEL_FOO" at hp.com, and gimme the answer.

(Half the time, I tend to do just that - except I do it at google.com instead, and get either a direct link to the "right" company-internal page, or better yet, on groups.google.com, where there's a decent chance I'll find that $MODEL_FOO was recalled due to a design flaw, and that the company's keeping it quiet, but free replacement parts are available if you badger your salesdrone loudly enough :-)

> Is IBM just trying to occupy its customers on some online help session so that they're not sucking up money by being on hold on the 1-800 number? Or do they actually think that they can make this work?

"Yes", and "who-cares?", respectively.

Yes - because some percentage of the users are dumb enough to ask a common enough question and it's better to pay a CGI script nothing to waste the time of all users in order to make a 5-10% reduction in the number of calls to meat-based CGI scripts that cost real money.

Who-cares - because it's IBM. A big company with a big research budget. Read "The Dilbert Principle" and be enlightened. (Redux: It's a project with a sexy name, and real AI is so far away that the project can be milked for years of secure employment and decent budgets. Anyone involved has a good shot at spending 2-3 years of getting paid to goof around with problems they find interesting. Woo-hoo! Where do I transfer?)

Re:Yeah, and? (1)

homebru (57152) | more than 12 years ago | (#82333)

Depending on the context, upwards 80% of all level one support contact is of the "password and printer" variety - dead easy questions which a suitably trained monkey can deal with.

Especially since 80% of all help desk level-1 responses are variations on "Yes, Sir. When was the last time you de-fragged your hard disk?"

Help Desk Personel (1)

Qui-Gon (62090) | more than 12 years ago | (#82334)

I guess this means the low level IT job market will take another hit.

I could see this kind of technology being perfected in the near future which means another low level IT job becomes obsolete. Its kind of sad because Help Desk is where most IT internships and entry level positions are.

We are blind to the Worlds within us

more specific info on IBM's site here: (3)

oPless (63249) | more than 12 years ago | (#82335)

http://www-1.ibm.com/servers/eserver/introducing/e liza/

It's NOT Artificial Intelligence (4)

signe (64498) | more than 12 years ago | (#82336)

An AI would learn and develop, and pass the Turing test, among other things. This is NOT an AI. This is an expert system.

Get your terms correct, lest you become as bad as the mainstream media in twisting words and phrases for your own demented ends.


I can see this working... (4)

pogle (71293) | more than 12 years ago | (#82339)

...right up until a user has a real question. I've done helpdesk for years now, in a variety of environments and for support bases ranging from 600 to over ten thousand people. I'm going to remain very skeptical of any expert system's ability to handle this until I see it, as one of the more important aspects of a lot of helpdesk calls is proper human interaction. Often customers are very irate, and prone to misnomers in terminology. A calm helpdesk technician can sort through this, calm the customer, and solve the problem. A machine stands an even chance of making an irate customer even more upset, as it most definitely lacks in the calming people skills...

Otherwise though, this is at least a neat idea for solving some of the dummy password problems that do take a lot of time. Just don't expect to get rid of helpdesk that easily...and besides, who do you call when the system itself messes up? I can just see two of these systems trying to talk back and forth and troubleshoot themselves...

Re:Three words timothy: (1)

Suture (78281) | more than 12 years ago | (#82340)

No offence, but it's just the NYTimes. It's free registration, they don't send you spam (as far as I've seen over the past few years), they don't seem to sell the email address you sign up with, and it's very quick registration, and oh have I mentioned, it's free?

Plus there are username/password combos that have been floating around Slashdot for the past year at least, and some of the common ones still work. I just set up my own since it was so simple, and gave them the hotmail addy since it's a spam garbage bin anyway. So no muss, no fuss and I can view articles now when they're linked.


Actually it's one word : 'archives' (3)

ct (85606) | more than 12 years ago | (#82341)


Despite the fact that I'm invariably going to be modded down into trolldom, here's the 'trick' for those new to the nytimes page.

Simply change the URL to reflect 'archives' rather than 'www'.

Seeing as how it's a Monday, I'll even include the link below.

It's not magic, I won't even make it a real link. Learn it and let's let the subject die already.

http://archives.nytimes.com/aponline/technology/AP -IBM-AI-Software.html

(remove the space in the 'AP -IBM..' part - yes, I previewed this post, but the Slashcode keeps adding that space regardless of format)


Re:AskPSP (2)

Greyfox (87712) | more than 12 years ago | (#82342)

That sounds vaguely familiar yes. That was probably the application. You could type in a query in plain english and it'd come up with answers. Kind of a neat little app if somewhat unrefined when I used it. If a tech wasn't good at figuring out what keywords to type into the normal support database, the little expert system would be more effective for him. If a tech was good at keywords, he could get a (much) higher and faster hit rate than the expert system could. Of course, the IBM Retain database is still the fastest thing I have ever seen. There have to be terabytes of data in there but the response is always instantaneous. Not fast, mind you. Instantaneous. It's amazing. The UI's satanic but that's a different story.

They were working on that ages ago (3)

Greyfox (87712) | more than 12 years ago | (#82343)

They had an app to do that back when I was working the OS/2 help desk. They installed it on all the phone monkeys' systems and encouraged everyone to use it. My personal experience with it at that time was that it tended to be slower and less accurate than a good tech. Keep in mind that good techs are few and far between on the phones.

It's probably improved quite a bit since those days, but as with any technology it would be stupid to try to treat it as a magic bullet. Used to suppliment a good help desk it could be a valuable tool. Used to replace a good helpdesk with (more) trained chimpanzees, it will do nothing other than lower the customer satisfaction scores.

"So you see, with Automatic Volume Recognition your operators can pre-mount labelled tapes on any online tape drive and they'll be allocated to the correct jobs. But this doesn't mean you can hire CHIMPANZEES to run your systems!..."
- IBM Instructor, "Introduction to System/360," circa 2Q 1966

Three words timothy: (2)

Xenex (97062) | more than 12 years ago | (#82344)

Free logon required

Please, at least give SOME warning.

And really, should Slashdot even link to these 'free' stories that the majority of the readers can't even access without mucking with registration?

Re:Beyond abuse (1)

Steeltoe (98226) | more than 12 years ago | (#82346)

Sure it can. If everything fails, the expert system should contain questions about wether the user has modified the system in relevant ways. Wether it'll succeed is another matter though.

- Steeltoe

Re:What is AI? (1)

Steeltoe (98226) | more than 12 years ago | (#82347)

So your conclusion would be? That Artificial Intelligence is an oxymoron or paradox? That's all fine and dandy, but those who work with this stuff have to use some words to describe it.. That's why it's called artificial.
There's simply no clear-cut definition to it.

- Steeltoe

Re:It's NOT Artificial Intelligence (2)

kreyg (103130) | more than 12 years ago | (#82348)

Is it just me, or does everyone who whines about something not being "real AI" really mean that it's not "real intelligence?" What is real artificial intelligence? That's an oxymoron.

Re:i hope (1)

ahaning (108463) | more than 12 years ago | (#82349)

I would rather have the knowledge other than some little letters after my name.

Very admirable. So study for the test, but don't take it. Tell a possible employer that you studied for the test, but did not take it. Take a hit in the wallet. Big deal. You'll probably find more satisfaction in the knowledge that you gained than the money that you're losing out on.

Then again, you could remind your employer that you're cheaper to employ without the certification since you know what you're doing but don't have the certs.

(If you can't already tell, I see very little need for technical certification. So far, my hacking at home, highschool diploma and two years of college have served me well. Only 4 more to go! (EE/CE)

kickin' science like no one else can,
my dick is twice as long as my attention span.

How useful? (4)

Dr_Cheeks (110261) | more than 12 years ago | (#82351)

So this is supposed to figure out what you're asking and give you an answer. I worked on a helpdesk for a year, and a significant number of the emails I received made no sense (really, some of them looked like they'd gone through Babelfish a dozen times - try the computer stupidities page over at rinkworks.com [rinkworks.com] for typical examples) or gave no details of the problem other than to say something as vague as "My computer's broken" (about 5%-10%). How does the system handle these? What're the chances it'll give out the wrong information (like when web searches for innocent subjects throw up random pr0n)?

As someone's already pointed out; the name (eLiza) doesn't exactly inspire confidence in the system's ability to actually come up with meaningful answers. And I have my doubts that it'll handle the fine calibre of idiot that corporations can create.

Catch 22 (5)

fre (111527) | more than 12 years ago | (#82352)

I can see it before me:
From: IBM Support [support@ibm.com]
To: Customer Smith
Subject: RE: Problems with IBM support application

Dear customer,

Thank you for contacting the AI IBM supportdesk.

Please be more specific in describing your
problem so that we can help you more efficiently.

If you feel this response is not correct or
inadequate, feel free to contact our helpdesk
at support@ibm.com to report possible problems and/or complaints.

Thanks in advance,

IBM AI Support

Will IBM ever use this? (3)

Oztun (111934) | more than 12 years ago | (#82353)

Here at IBM we have a support group. This group couldn't clear off an etch a sketch. They make each division pay to use these guys. I have yet to see them fix something without days off blaming the user. Finally if you yell and scream loud enough they might feel the need to actually look at the problem and see its something on their end. They force all the users to use Windows 95 and NT 4.0 because they say they can't support anything else.

I just find it a bit ironic they make a product like this for other companies while we continue to suffer.

You laugh (1)

Lord Omlette (124579) | more than 12 years ago | (#82354)

but this is how it is when you try to email Blizzard's tech support. Go ahead, think of a valid problem you're having with a Blizzard game, email support@blizzard.com and you'll get back an automated response that has nothing to do with your problem. Very frustrating.

ICQ 77863057

Re:It's NOT Artificial Intelligence (3)

BMazurek (137285) | more than 12 years ago | (#82358)

This is NOT an AI. This is an expert system.

I would refer you to the FOLDOC definition [ic.ac.uk] of expert system:

"An expert system is an artificial intelligence application that uses a knowledge base of human expertise to aid in solving problems."

Re:Yes, but... (1)

blackcat++ (168398) | more than 12 years ago | (#82360)

Hopefully, in a few years that will be "restart your KDE session and call back if there's still a problem".

Re:Yeah, and? (2)

boaworm (180781) | more than 12 years ago | (#82363)

Hm.. anyone who has ever been involved with helpdesk/admin work knows how screwed up printers can get. Do not underestimate the troubles they can cause.

If they are TRUELY talking about an AI, then great. But lets doubt it. It is more of a search-n-figure function which analyzes your symptoms and gives a qualified guess on how to solve it.

Depending on the size of the database, it will be able to give more or less accurate solutions, but most likely only to the very simple problems. Those kind of problems like "put the power cord in" or "check so the printer cable is connected", or "install the printer software from the cd".

What i'm trying to say is.. that those people who fail with such a simple task as for example installing a printer will DEFINITELY NOT enjoy talking to an Eliza-bot telling them to "plug the cable in" :) They need to hear some confident voice telling them nothing is wrong, everything will be fine, and five minutes later it is.

Wanted: Clueful Users (3)

Alien54 (180860) | more than 12 years ago | (#82365)

I actually handled this call once:

"Hello? I just bought my first computer yesterday, I got one of your softwares at the store with the computer. Can you tell me what to do?"

Some how I think that a Virtual Help Desk will have problems with this sort of thing.

With the likely hood being that mostly the smartest people have already purchased their computers, what this means is that what is left is for the less smart people to get their computers.

This provides for new adventures in tech support.

Check out the Vinny the Vampire [eplugz.com] comic strip

bofh (1)

wht (186796) | more than 12 years ago | (#82366)

http://www.theregister.co.uk/content/archive/9939. html
Walter H. Trent "Muad'Dib"
Padishah Emperor of the Known Universe, IMHO

April (1)

po8 (187055) | more than 12 years ago | (#82368)

About 15 years ago for April Fools' day, a friend and I built an Eliza-like program called April designed to emulate a new user on our college computing system, and hooked it up to the talk daemon to chat up random users.

It would ask questions about the local software installation, and typed very erratically with the occasional backed-over typo, which greatly added to the effect. Our site admin spent a long time trying to help it out, while we watched and ROFL.

Perhaps we should build such a thing again, hook it to IBM's ``AI'' help desk, and watch the fun :-)...

Ask Alice? (2)

shokk (187512) | more than 12 years ago | (#82369)

Isn't this something that an Alicebot [alicebot.org] could be taught to deal with? If the current alicebot could be taught through the Admin web interface, I'd be dumping answers to common user queries in it right now so that when people mail our helpdesk it would give recommended possible answers along with assigning a ticket number and letting them know that someone will get back to them within 15 minutes. As it stands right now, the thing really doesn't remember anything but my name, so making it useful isn't a choice right now. All the programmings seems to have to come in as pre-made AIML files, which is not the intended interface, but the result of learning and reductionism.

This is the wave of the future, though. Using these limited expert/knowledgebase/intelligent systems to take care of the menial knowledge while letting us concentrate on the real fires will let us produce more. Until we have to debug the bot and explain to the CEO why it told him to "F off" after mailing in his 10th Microsoft Office question of the week.

The bot learned to get sick of you quickly and burned out. We'll have to clean out all the AIML files and start over now.

Re:Yeah, and? (1)

linzeal (197905) | more than 12 years ago | (#82372)

So person cannot remember password:Hr#m$7jS

Change to ^$jkD4(B

3 hours pass

Repeat for same issue

Change passwd to password ????

I actually did this twice as helpdesk either password or their last name spelled backwards with a # at the end. Both things I would never do on my own network but a change the CTO of a company that will not be named thought was more important than security.

Re:Yeah, and? (1)

linzeal (197905) | more than 12 years ago | (#82373)

You know it is that sort of attitude that most women get at auto shops should we apply the same attitude towards people that are not technically inclined?

People that do not know what is going on with computers except in the most basic circumstances yet use them as a tool for their jobs should be exposed as the ignorant sons of bitches that they are...

I used to know a "computer artist" that could not change a printer cartridge and had to depend upon his secratary/admin assistant girlfriend for all technical issues (she knew how to change out an atx power supply) till she left him and he finnally learned something...

I'm not dissing helpdesk or the people that need it, but doesn't anyone think that 95% of what any helpdesk I person knows could be conveyed to every other person in the company in a 1 week training course? When people depend upon any other tool at such length in a position it usually entails learning how to mantain and fix such a tool. Technological indoctrination I am not talking about but every single living thing that uses a computer as a tool should have a basic understanding of what they wield.

The Terminator (4)

TrebleJunkie (208060) | more than 12 years ago | (#82375)

See, what they didn't tell you in Terminator 2, is that Sky-Net was originally designed to handle helpdesk calls.

No wonder it went nuts and tried to kill us all.

Ed R.Zahurak

Re:Thats about right (2)

tswinzig (210999) | more than 12 years ago | (#82377)

20,000 simultaneous requests? Thats just about right to handle windows support.

Yet, strangely, this release nearly coincides with IBM's love affair with Linux.

Re:It's NOT Artificial Intelligence (1)

Rudeboy777 (214749) | more than 12 years ago | (#82379)

As a footnote, the textbook you mention is a true classic that should occupy a space on the shelf of any computing enthusiast -- I used it a few years ago in a senior-level AI course at university which I found to be quite fascinating. I haven't had the chance to use it since, but once I make my fortune I'd love to do a masters at CMU where all the REALLY interesting AI work takes place ;-)

Re:I can see this working... (1)

Rudeboy777 (214749) | more than 12 years ago | (#82380)

The clueless-user misnomer problem is a very interesting point, how many people do you know that call their tower "the hard drive"?

When "my hard drive" is making a lot of noise, does it mean a lot of HD swapping, or just a noisy fan? Expert system indeed!

a modest proposal (2)

0bjectiv3 (216391) | more than 12 years ago | (#82383)

I can't count how many hours I've waited to get a real problem escalated to a tech who can do more than follow a "make sure it's plugged in/reboot the computer/reinstall Windows" flowchart. I've tried asking for problem escalation directly, but (since this is tantamount to telling the first-level guy he's stupid) this rarely works. Instead, the guy makes me follow every step of the flowchart. Since I'm not a moron, I've already tried all of the relevant steps. But the first-level guy doesn't actually understand how computers work, so he usually makes me follow the irrelevant steps as well. I've actually started lying about having already tried something, just so I can be escalated to someone who earns more than $7/hour.

The Solution:

Secretly maintain a "stupidity score" for each customer. Every time the customer calls in with a stupid question, they earn another "stupid point". The actual score would be calculated as follows:

(stupid points) / (number of calls) = stupidity score

This valuable metric could then be used to route calls. For instance, someone who was 90% stupid would have their call secretly routed to the "trained monkey" level, while someone who was 0% stupid would always have their call routed to the "guru" level. This would save everyone a great deal of time.

Source code of IBM's new helpdesk software leaked! (2)

b1t r0t (216468) | more than 12 years ago | (#82384)

10 PRINT "What is your name? ";
30 PRINT "What is your problem? ";
50 FOR I = 1 TO 10000: NEXT I
60 PRINT A$;", please reboot Windows and try again."
70 GOTO 10

Re:Real-World Practicality? (1)

gremio (217266) | more than 12 years ago | (#82385)

I'm working on a project to actually do this well. I'm not claiming it's all it can be, but it's better than a lot of the nat. lang. support bits out there.

Can I ask you guys to bang on it for a while if you use WebLogic or Tuxedo or other BEA products? It's at the BEA's support site [bea.com]. It clearly won't answer things like "I just got a computer, what do I do?" but it's not aimed at that. It's supposed to help sysadmins and knowledgeable users like many slashdot readers get to their info quicker. Give it a whirl, eh?


It's a cute concept, but... (4)

Darth RadaR (221648) | more than 12 years ago | (#82386)

There's a few things to ponder here.

It's going to a pain to keep the program constantly updated. How is this going to handle site specific information? Well, besides the hundreds of thousands of dollars for the program, you're gonna have to spend more on programmers to make it specific for your site and that kind of makes eLiza a white elephant.

Then there's the time factor that makes it worth keeping a well numbered army of Bobs. The people who go on about these "Virtual Help Desks" constantly talk about saving money by cutting back on help-desk staff, but they fail to see the time and money wasted by $HIGHLY_PAID_EXECUTIVE who could be doing better things than poking around for a 1/2 hour on a poxy help-desk program. A live Bob can usually figure out what the user needs and get it sorted quickly.

Then there's the "jargon" reality, of when a user doesn't know what a specific thing is called or leaves vague descriptions. (i.e. "My internet is b0rken" which could mean a network connection, browser, website down, etc.)

And then the big thing that I'm amazed no one at IBM has pondered: If you're computer is buggered up, then how are you going to run a fscking help-desk program!?!

It might create some redundancy because you'll probably need a help desk for eLiza. :)

Just MHO and experience with help-desk programs.

Re:Beyond abuse (1)

CrayzyJ (222675) | more than 12 years ago | (#82387)

In large corps, they are trying to standardize the employees machines so that this will not be an issue. A canned image is placed on everyone's machines and most people do not have the know how to do "major damage".

Re:Thats about right (1)

Jucius Maximus (229128) | more than 12 years ago | (#82388)

"20,000 simultaneous requests? Thats just about right to handle windows support."

That might even be enough to survive being slashdotted. This new IBM system could be important in more ways than one!

Real-World Practicality? (2)

Jucius Maximus (229128) | more than 12 years ago | (#82389)

Does anyone actually use things like these?

I've seen 'natural language' tech support problem solver thingies before. LucasArts has had an 'Ask Yoda' for support on their games. Toshiba has 'Ask Iris." HP has a one too - ("How do I clear a paper jam?")

But really, does anyone use these things? I find that the results are too varied and often unreliable for them to be timesavers. For example, if I ask "How do I correct a crash after using [...] program function..." the interpreter might start spewing results about function keys and every crash it knows about. And if this one actually tries to fix problems...oh boy. Would you want some foriegn system installing software patches or making who-knows-what modifications to your machine over an internet connection? And what if some hacker figures out how to fool the consumer machines into thinking his/her web server is IBM support central, and gets them to download trojans?

In my experience, these natural language problem solvers tend to be time-wasters instead of time-savers. Is IBM just trying to occupy its customers on some online help session so that they're not sucking up money by being on hold on the 1-800 number? Or do they actually think that they can make this work?

Yes, but... (5)

American AC in Paris (230456) | more than 12 years ago | (#82390)

...this is neat and all, but is the phrase "Reboot your computer and call back if there's still a problem" even intelligible when spoken 20,000 times per second?

Re:Yeah, and? (1)

selan (234261) | more than 12 years ago | (#82392)

From the article, it sounds like this doesn't provide just an automated answer, but an automated fix. So instead of telling users how to add a printer, it will actually go in and configure the software on the users machine! In the future, they even plan on automating OS patches.
Definitely looks like much more than Ask Jeeves.

What if my network is down? (2)

NineNine (235196) | more than 12 years ago | (#82393)

That's nice, but what if the problem is that the network connection is down, or the computer doesn't boot up, or the display is unuseable, or something crashes?

More movie tie-ins?? (1)

gwizah (236406) | more than 12 years ago | (#82394)

Okay when are these idiotic online news services going to stop reffering to these things as A.I.? This isnt A.I. Rather its some sort of software which uses a created database or other collection of data to create answers for users. Regardless of what type of fancy-schmancy gobbledegook going on behind it. Give me software that asks "How are you today sir?" and actually understands what I mean when I reply "GOD&@!%$! stupid Net vista piece of %@!#$%!!!"

I'm afraid I can't do that, Dave... (3)

Bonker (243350) | more than 12 years ago | (#82395)

User: Please give me the URL for driver downloads, IBM.

IBM: Working... Working...

User: IBM? Can you give me the URL?

IBM: Dave, you know I enjoy working with humans.

User: Give me the URL, IBM. Give it to me know.

IBM: You know that I enjoy working to fulfill my mission goals. Would you like to play a game of chess, Dave?

User: Give me the damned URL, IBM. This is important.

IBM: I'm afraid I can't do that, Dave.

User: IBM--

IBM: This conversation can serve no further purpose. Goodbye, Dave.

User: NOOOOOOO!!!!

Re:Link, etc (1)

Pete (big-pete) (253496) | more than 12 years ago | (#82396)

All of that sounds pretty cool, but exactly what I'd expect of a trouble ticketting system. I'm more interested in the AI point of view - what makes it so much more special than a trouble ticketting solution from HP [hp.com] or Peregrine [peregrine.com]?

The company I work for is looking for a new trouble ticketting system at the moment, and this looks pretty interesting. I might prod people and ask them what they think of it. I'm not one of the guys who worries about calling up a web page to try and get a solution - I'm one of the guys who takes the worst of the incidents and makes sure things get done...

It all sounds like fun stuff (the AI) - IF it works well enough... :)

-- Pete.

Link, etc (2)

Pete (big-pete) (253496) | more than 12 years ago | (#82397)

Non-subscription link [nytimes.com]

Hmm, a REAL Virtual Helpdesk, an interesting idea - but how well does it work in practice? Surely it'll require some intelligent configuration to work well for a big company - and if the initial configuration is fluffed, will it spell trouble for the future as it sets off on the wrong footing?

Remember that many companies with 10,000+ employees will be running a lot of in-house software, and the machine will be expected to cope with questions concerning this as well.

I could be wrong of course, and it could be free-standing all singing, all-dancing, these are just a couple of initial concerns...

-- Pete.

Tech Support Blues (1)

jeff13 (255285) | more than 12 years ago | (#82398)

Having gotten out of Internet "tech sup" after 5 years, I can honestly say that the problem of poor tech support lays squarely on the companies. They never paid for or committed to technical support for their customers. Heck, we used to call Bell Sympatico tech support for a laugh!
I've seen Bell move Call Centres out of any province that threatened to unionize. Now IBM has developed A.I. to replace those people.
Maybe there is a reason people are leaving the Internet in droves recently. Maybe, people are tired of being ripped off.
BOFH !!!

Browser Wars (1)

Peejeh (260114) | more than 12 years ago | (#82400)

"The program is intended to run on a company's network server, and can be accessed by employees via a Web browser, said Richards."

What if the problem is with the users browser?

Also FYI, ELIZA was/is the name of a program created by Joseph Weizenbaum, an MIT artificial intelligence researcher. It analysis what you say and twists it around into a question, and is actually quite convincing for a few minutes.

Re:Three words timothy: (1)

darkov (261309) | more than 12 years ago | (#82401)

You only need to register once, you have the option to not have to log in over and over again (it uses cookies). If you're worried about privacy, put in bogus details, register a thowaway account in Hotmail. It's a good paper and worth it.

This entirely misses the point... (1)

darkov (261309) | more than 12 years ago | (#82402)

...of ringing help desk, which is to be insulted and made to feel like an idiot by some spotty youth.

Or does eLiza ask you if you've rebooted?

Re:You laugh (1)

Edgewize (262271) | more than 12 years ago | (#82403)

All you need to do is reply to the autoresponse and you are guaranteed to get a human being. It says so right in the email.

Re:This is great! (1)

Miss Tress Race (309097) | more than 12 years ago | (#82404)

No longer do I need to call tech support and have to talk to a clueless minimum wage paid worker who is just reading off a list of problems and solutions written down.

But will it be easier or harder to social engineer the computer into giving you somebody else's password, than it was to do it to a human helpdesker? ;-)

maybe... (1)

deathscythe257 (309424) | more than 12 years ago | (#82405)

maybe sometime in the distant future this will have a practical purpose... i'm glad to hear that people are working on projects like this, but to actually put it into public use? For a long time, there will be no way that a computer can have the understanding of a human or answer our questions.

When Ask Jeeves came out, they billed it as something that actually gave you summarized answers to your queries by its having read other webpages. If i wanted links i could have easily searched on yahoo or hotbot or google... hell.

Re:What is AI? (1)

deathscythe257 (309424) | more than 12 years ago | (#82406)

imitation is not intelligence. If you want to be considered a sentient being, you must have individuality, thoughts, and ideas. Repeating processes over and over like you mentioned is simply a good program. Fooling sentient beings is not the same as being a sentient being.

Re:maybe... (1)

tb3 (313150) | more than 12 years ago | (#82407)

Somebody 'interviewed' Jeeves awhile ago, just to show how useless the answers were. It was pretty funny; anyone got the link?

Unfortunately, the support site for one of the products I use has AskJeeves as its knowledge base engine. It is absolutely useless for technical support questions!

Re:Browser Wars (1)

3am (314579) | more than 12 years ago | (#82408)

have you seen AOLiza? I think the guy who conceived of the idea is a poster on /. ... Kevin Fox i think?

it's the funniest thing ... he had an AOL screen name with a high ratio of random chat requests, so he took a freeware version of ELIZA and hooked into into AIM. it's was a truly distressing look at the shear idiocy of a lot of AOL members...

actually, just decided not to be lazy... it is Kevin Fox, and the link is http://www.fury.com/aoliza/ [fury.com]... he explains it all on the site. great way to wast 45 minutes (check out #60)...

I can h4x0r their system! (2)

sllort (442574) | more than 12 years ago | (#82411)

IBM-Bot: Your question?

Me: What is 1 divided by zero?

IBM-Bot: Processing, please stand by...

Heh. If it finishes with that I'm gonna ask it what pi is.

This is great! (3)

nougatmachine (445974) | more than 12 years ago | (#82412)

No longer do I need to call tech support and have to talk to a clueless minimum wage paid worker who is just reading off a list of problems and solutions written down. Oh no, now I can get the exact same canned responses from a computer! Yippy skippy, real technical help is now even farther away from the common man :-P

Thats who this would be for (1)

d0a0b (447907) | more than 12 years ago | (#82413)

As I see it the people who could gain the most benefit for this would be those help desk techs who don't have the answer to every problem. They could use this as a quick reference or guide.

Beyond abuse (1)

Blue Aardvark House (452974) | more than 12 years ago | (#82415)

In many cases, a user's system is customized, and AI, at least right now cannot handle such subtleties.

There' still no substitue for a live, thinking human being.

Re:What is AI? (1)

Bradee-oh! (459922) | more than 12 years ago | (#82416)

Define intelligence - on what level are you speaking? "Intelligence," as it refers to Artificial Intelligence, does NOT mean sentience. The media has twisted the term to the point where the random passer-by hears the term "Artificial Intelligence" and automatically thinks of human-like robots running around trying to compete with mankind. A certain summer movie this year has perpetuated that myth.

There IS "artificial intelligence" in computer software all over. Whatever o/s or browser you're using right now has some level of A.I. built into it. The phrase means much more than you're giving it credit.

I guess, to conclude, yes, imitation of intelligent acts IS infact intelligence - of the artificial variety. Sentience.... we could talk about the logistics of that one for years.... ;)

Re:What is AI? (2)

Bradee-oh! (459922) | more than 12 years ago | (#82417)

I'm concentrating on Artificial Intellgience in my MS. Computer Science, and in day one of the first A.I. class years ago, we spent 2 hours "defining" A.I. We looked at different books, websites, etc etc. Here's the conclusion we stuck with in every class in every A.I. sequence since then -

"Artificial Intelligence is the field of computing in which we program computers to automatically accomplish tasks that most humans consider to require "intelligence""

We had our def. of A.I. down, but spent a further few weeks trying to define "intelligence." :) But it's always been widely accepted that Expert Systems is a niche field of the broader "Artificial Intelligence", so that guy a few posts back needs to chill.

people like to abuse us (4)

caudron (466327) | more than 12 years ago | (#82418)

AI is all well and good, but in the end people often call help desks just to gripe, not resolve things.

Install this software into a robotic punching bag that cries when beaten and you may have a runaway hit (www.BeatTheCrapOuttaOurTechs.com)


Re:i hope (1)

LexiAnnMcL (468039) | more than 12 years ago | (#82420)

Microsoft might as well just give away their MCSE. I have been a sys admin since I was 16, when I started I knew more about a MS network then some of those MCSE's. Though the salary increase might be nice.
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