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New AI Agents May Soon Blur the Line Between Humans and Machines

AI agents, customer service

As artificial intelligence (AI) technology progresses, a new generation of AI agents is emerging, potentially impacting how businesses interact with customers. 

These digital assistants, designed to exhibit human-like autonomy and social intelligence, could change eCommerce, customer service and other industries by providing personalized, emotionally intelligent aid that blurs the line between human and machine interaction.

To that end, Altera is developing AI agents that draw inspiration from neuroscience and a comprehensive understanding of brain functions. Based in Palo Alto, California, the company announced Wednesday (May 8) that it has raised $11.1 million in funding since its founding in December.

“The brain is the only example of a high-functioning agent we have,” Altera Co-founder Robert Yang, a former MIT neuroscience professor, told PYMNTS. “Altera’s approach to building digital humans is uniquely inspired by our academic and neuroscience background and the work we’ve done to better understand the brain holistically.” 

What is an AI Agent? 

An AI agent is a software program that can interact with its environment, collect data and use that data to perform tasks to meet goals. Imagine an AI agent that could help a customer find the perfect gift by analyzing past purchases, current trends and the recipient’s preferences, offering real-time support and suggestions throughout the shopping experience.

AI agents like IBM WatsonSalesforce Einstein and Amazon Alexa differ from traditional AI systems because they are designed to interact autonomously and intelligently with users, simulating human-like behavior. These agents process and analyze data, engage in conversations, make recommendations and learn from interactions to continuously improve their performance, making them more dynamic and responsive than standard AI tools. 

The development of AI agents has been a focus of research and development for decades, with early chatbots and virtual assistants laying the groundwork for more sophisticated systems. Recent advancements in machine learning, natural language processing and computer vision have enabled the creation of AI agents capable of engaging in increasingly complex and nuanced interactions with humans.

Altera said that it has created an AI agent capable of playing the game Minecraft with human-like skill and sociability. The company’s AI agents are designed to incorporate empathy, embodiment and personal goals, enabling them to form genuine connections with people. 

“We intend to fundamentally change how humans and computers interact, starting with friends that can play any game with you,” Yang said. “The current paradigm of turn-based prompting AI will not last long. The end state for AI is the creation of agents that can coordinate and autonomously accomplish tasks over long durations.”

Altera’s AI agents are intended to be more friendly AI. 

“Human beings are the most socially evolved creatures in the known universe,” Yang said. “Our every trait and sense has been optimized to allow us to connect to each other. Our goal for our agents is to have them mirror us — allowing the highest, most genuine levels of connection.”

AI Agents for Commerce

As AI agents become more sophisticated, they could be integrated into eCommerce platforms to provide personalized recommendations, virtual assistance and emotionally intelligent customer support.

“We envision them to be integrated into everything,” Yang said when asked about the potential applications of Altera’s AI agents in commerce.

Altera has secured funding from various investors, including veterans from the gaming industry, venture capital firms and executives across different sectors. The company intends to use these funds to recruit AI scientists, engineers and leadership for product development and growth. 

However, the development of AI agents also raises questions about the future of work and the ethical implications of human-machine interaction. As these systems become more advanced and ubiquitous, concerns about job displacement and the need for responsible development and deployment of AI technologies have come to the forefront.

Yang said Altera aims to address these challenges by prioritizing holistic intelligence over narrow, task-specific AI and building diverse teams of experts to ensure ethical and responsible development. 

“We believe the end state of AI products are cooperative beings, who can tackle problems and complex tasks while also intuitively addressing unspoken problems,” he added. “Our goal is to make significant strides toward this vision in the coming years.”