Bring Your Own Intelligent Agent (BYOA) is coming

July 13, 2016 - Dennis Mortensen

Over the next half decade, as more AI intelligent agents come to market, employees will increasingly deploy a suite of agents to get their job done. Those employees who DO take advantage of these agents will become more productive and along with that more attractive (both internally and externally).

Much like Bring Your Own Device (BYOD), this new paradigm—call it Bring Your Own Agent (BYOA)—promises a host of benefits for both employees and employers and will likely change the nature of work.

Here’s how I see this process unfolding. First, we’ll witness the birth of truly intelligent vertical agents, each of which focuses on a single task and its flawless execution. These agents will augment our own intelligence and make us even more capable of doing the job we were hired to do.

Scheduling meetings, booking travel, managing your receipts, and repetitive sales tasks are among the plethora of chores we must do everyday; these are most certainly not core to our jobs and often distract us from the high value tasks, like cultivating a lead or sharpening our analysis of our customers. Vertical AI agents are starting to take on some of these tasks. Our AI intelligent agent, Amy, schedules meetings for you. Cleo gives you real-time visibility on spending. Legal Robot reviews and analyzes contracts. And this is just the beginning. In the next half decade we’ll see thousands of specialized agents come to market, and startups, rather than any of the tech behemoths, are likely to build them. You’ll be able to access these vertical agents by setting up an account and invoking them via email or chat or some other convenient channel.

It’s not hard to imagine a scenario in which part of anyone’s job is to identify which agents she should deploy and then to manage them well.

Once you posit a small army of agents designed to take on individual tasks start to finish, it’s not hard to imagine a scenario in which part of anyone’s job is to identify which agents she should deploy and then to manage them well. Imagine, for example, that Rebecca is a Director of Events; she’d likely find a scheduling agent, a contract agent and an expenses agent extremely useful. Her job will include setting up these agents, from hooking these agents into other pieces of software to inputting parameters that reflect the needs of her current employer (e.g. she can spend $2,000 per month on speaker fees).

Once they’re up and running, Rebecca will need to make sure she’s getting the most out of these agents. She’ll use data to measure performance and then their tweak settings. Indeed, like any good manager, she’ll also “fire” agents that aren’t delivering the results she expects. But unlike a traditional manager, Rebecca can hire two agents to do the same job at once and test them against each other.

These agents free Rebecca up to focus on the meatiest part of her job: creating events that delight and inspire and generate leads for the sales team. At the same time, her expertise now encompasses optimizing and integrating a suite of agents that are particularly relevant to event production. You could say that Rebecca depends on her agents as much as one depends on a good team of employees, who have learned how to collaborate well.

Eventually, it’s likely Rebecca will move on to a new employer. Having grown accustomed to using these agents and having learned their nuances and how best to run them, she’ll want to bring them along with her. Of course, she’ll change the settings to meet the needs of her new employer. But that’s the easy part. In this scenario, her new employer should be eager to hire Rebecca for both her skills in identifying relevant speakers and her ability to masterfully deploy and manage a set of AI agents. And this brings forth the really interesting question, WHO exactly is it you are hiring? Are you hiring Rebecca, or Rebecca augmented by nine agents? And do you care?

I realize this is a somewhat airbrushed version of reality. Transitioning an agent from one employer to the next raises questions we still wrestle with around BYOD. The most concerning is privacy. You’d certainly want to be sure any agent jettisons proprietary data before being deployed at a new company. But you might want that agent to retain some of the insights from that data. Fortunately, here we can look to a ton of learning and preexisting frameworks from our current employment relationships. All x.ai team members signed a Proprietary Information and Inventions Agreement, and perhaps agents will have to sign similar agreements.

As we head into the era of BYOA, BYOD points the way to a few likely outcomes:

  1. Employers may have to evaluate a new employee as a combination of their human skills and the agents that augment them.
  2. If people find agents useful (and I’m obviously bullish on this point), they’ll want to take them with them from job to job.
  3. Employers will not be able to prevent this and instead will have to adopt policies and practices to mitigate risks around privacy.
  4. And last but not at all least, people will be freed of some of the most tedious tasks to focus on what they’ve actually been hired to do.

This post originally appeared on LinkedIn Pulse, and on the x.ai blog.