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PolyAI, a London startup founded by authorities in the field of “conversational AI” - including CEO Nikola Mrkšić who was simply previously the initially engineer at Apple-acquired VocalIQ - has raised $12 million in Series A funding to deploy its tech found in customer care contact centres. The round was led by Stage72 Ventures, with participation from Sands Capital Ventures, Amadeus Capital Partners, Love Capital, and Entrepreneur Primary (EF). PolyAI’s founders will be graduates of EF, although they didn’t meet through the company building plan but already knew one another from their time at Cambridge’s Dialog Devices Group, the main Machine Cleverness Lab at the University of Cambridge. “We started PolyAI in 2017, direct after submitting our PhD theses,” Mrkšić informs me. “At Cambridge, we created state-of-the-art work conversational technology, and beginning a company was the ultimate way to receive this tech found in real life. We brought many of our Cambridge colleagues around and started construction the commercial type of our conversational platform”. Targeting get in touch with centres - in a bid to help make these low-margin businesses even more scalable - PolyAI’s AI tech doesn’t just try to understand customer queries but ensure they may be conducted in a conversational way, regardless of the medium, that could be more than email, messaging or tone of voice. In which a lot of discussion AI or tone of voice assistants collapse, says Mrkšić, is normally that they aren’t in a position to really follow a conversation, frequently lacking the opportunity to understand meaning within the context of a conversation’s background or follow-up dialogue.
“Our proprietary technology allows the AI agents to support really complex use conditions,” he says. “Our agents are built around a framework for modelling context, this means they can hold very long conversations and remember all pieces of details that users experienced previously shared. The backend versions are data-driven, plus they are domain and words agnostic. This allows them to seamlessly level across different use conditions and world languages. In practice, this signifies that we don’t need to hand-craft agent behaviour - AI agents can find out by observing individual agents at the job”. That’s a hard nut to crack, which is why Mrkšić believes deep vertical integration with call centres will manufacture the very best outcomes. He doesn’t eliminate either buying a tiny to medium-sized contact center or forming a strategic partnership to expedite improvements in PolyAI’s providing and the company’s knowledge of how get in touch with centres operate. His thesis can be that AI might help make call centres more successful, although, early on in the startup’s lifestyle, the case isn't yet proven. Linked to this, Mrkšić and his team aren’t proposing that “AI agents” replace human brokers altogether but work together with them, quite literally, with each playing with their respective strengths. PolyAI co-founder and CTO Shawn Wen argues that devices can do a lot of things that humans have a problem with, including having “access immediately” to all or any of relevant information needed to support a person. At peak times, this may mean AI agents managing calls autonomously if human being agents aren’t obtainable, while leaving human being agents with the more technical edge cases or types where they can bring the most benefit through human empathy and EQ. “We intend to pursue very tight integration with call centres - be that through M&A, investment or other profit-sharing plans,” adds Mrkšweć. “Whichever model we wrap up pursuing, we want full alignment between PolyAI and get in touch with centres. Too many AI corporations have died trying to find favourable program licensing agreements years before their technology was all set for wide-scale deployment. We consider vertical integration is the foremost way to fast-monitor the creation of our ML system, aswell as for PolyAI to stay independent in the long-term”.