U.K. govt. office presents virtual receptionist as hologram

When is a hologram not a hologram? When a branch of the U.K. government, looking to streamline certain customer service functions, wants to spice up their menu of offerings by presenting an automated visual assistant akin what one might expect on in a Hollywood-style 3D virtual environment. The so-called hologram is actually a digital assistant represented by an actress on a screen and programmed with a set menu of answers to various prompts.

The confusion probably lies in the fact that the virtual assistant is projected on what the Brent Council says is a "see-through screen." However, all the images revealed so far appear to show the image on a normal flatscreen display. In addition to voice prompts, the display will include touch screen functionality, allowing visitors to the governmental agency to select from various menus as they attempt to make their way around the facility.

Named Shanice, the virtual assistant was announced earlier this month via the Brent Council's Twitter account. The message stated, "meet Shanice our new holographic receptionist in Civic Centre. She starts work from 21 Aug - pop along and say 'hi.'" And while the unveiling is good natured and presumably meant to inspire a positive reaction to the technology, we're going to have to file this one under our long, ongoing list of jobs being snatched away from humans by robots.

According to the Evening Standard, the office, responsible for issuing death and birth certificates and marriage licenses, spent roughly $19,000 on the installation, a move the office says will save it nearly $27,000 annually. The office claims that this is the first such virtual assistant deployed in a council government office, but given the numbers cited, it's likely the displacement of human receptionists will continue at other offices. Oddly, the virtual assistant will be situated behind a desk — a move probably designed to lessen the impact of the disconnect from humanity.

During the launch, no mention was made with regards to the possible impact such a shift could have on human workers. In fact, one official from the Brent Council, James Denselow, seemed positively ecstatic about the move saying, "this is the sort of space age technology you hear about but never really expect to see, especially in council buildings. The best thing is it's going to save us lots of money, without compromising our service. I hope people come down and visit her the next time they're in the Civic Centre, she looks great and she's always very friendly."

Note the apparent lack of irony in Denselow's reference to the automated assistant's "personality." Somewhere a flesh-wrapped, human receptionist is wondering if she should have smiled more. But on a serious note, this creeping acceptance of automated systems taking over even the jobs that have classically been bedrocks or human interaction does not bode well for all those middle class workers who don't already own a Google Glass-controlled Tesla.

Via London Evening Standard

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