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Unleashing the Power of Virtual Assistants: Humanizing the Digital Experience in Business 

Unleashing the Power of Virtual Assistants: Humanizing the Digital Experience in Business 

We live in an era where artificial intelligence (AI) continues to shape and transform various industries. Among the recent breakthroughs in AI technology, the emergence of Virtual Assistants has sparked a new wave of excitement and possibilities. These AI-powered virtual beings, designed to resemble humans closely, are revolutionizing how businesses interact with their customers and employees. To delve into the realm of Virtual Assistants and explore their impact on the business landscape, we spoke with Lidia Lositskaia, Head of Immersive Lab at EPAM. 

In this interview, Lidia shares her insights into the world of Virtual Assistants, shedding light on their potential, the challenges faced during their development and their role in shaping the future of digital transformation.

Tell us about your background–how long have you been in the tech industry, what is your passion and how did you end up at EPAM in this particular project?

I have been in the tech industry for over a decade, and it has been a thrilling journey. My passion has always centered around the intersection of creativity and technology, with a strong desire to create immersive experiences through film and storytelling. This drive led me to join EPAM, a company renowned for its commitment to innovation in software engineering. At EPAM, I was presented with an exciting opportunity to lead the Immersive Lab, and it was during this time that the project of creating a Virtual Assistant emerged.

Tell us more about the beginning of the Virtual Assistant project. How did your team start working on it?

The inception of the Virtual Assistant project was not a direct result of a customer request or a company mandate. It originated from our team's relentless pursuit of pushing the boundaries of artificial intelligence (AI) and delivering enhanced user experiences. We realized that we could evolve traditional AI chatbots into something more accessible and empathetic, ultimately giving birth to the idea of a Virtual Assistant.

Can you explain the idea behind the Virtual Assistant? What is its purpose, and how can it benefit various industries?

A Virtual Assistant is an AI-powered virtual being designed to resemble a human closely. Its purpose is to facilitate natural user interactions, revolutionizing industries across the board. This technology has the potential to provide a more relatable and engaging interface for customer support, employee training, personal assistants and more. By incorporating a human-like presence, Virtual Assistants can offer improved user experiences, round-the-clock service and increased efficiency, benefiting businesses greatly.

Please tell us more about the production process–what technologies did you use and combine?

The production process for creating the Virtual Assistant involved combining various technologies. We utilized Unreal Engine and Virtual Assistant Creator to craft a realistic and human-like appearance. For animation, we relied on Maya. Additionally, we integrated various AI and machine learning technologies for natural language processing, conversation handling and character building. These technologies were seamlessly integrated with APIs to ensure compatibility across different platforms.

What were the main challenges you had to overcome during the development process, from a technical perspective and in terms of team dynamics, ethics and legal considerations?

The challenges we encountered during the development process were multi-faceted. From a technical standpoint, achieving actual human-like characteristics for the Virtual Assistant was a significant challenge. Equally important was addressing users' perception and acceptance of AI. We had to ensure ethical considerations, safeguard data privacy and navigate potential legal implications. Further, maintaining a cohesive and collaborative team environment despite working from different locations presented its own set of challenges.

What kind of specialists do you have in your team, and what are their roles in the project? How do you manage the challenges of working remotely?

Our team consists of a diverse group of specialists, including Unreal developers, AI experts, 3D artists, animators and data scientists, each playing a crucial role in the project. Most of the team members live and work in Serbia. Despite our geographical distance, we have successfully cultivated a strong collaborative environment. Leveraging modern communication and project management tools, we maintain open lines of communication, facilitate knowledge sharing and ensure everyone's contributions align with the project's goals.

Which industries have you created Virtual Assistants for so far? Could you explain their roles, the scope of work involved and the possibilities they offer? And what benefits do they bring to businesses?

The applications of Virtual Assistants span various industries. We have successfully deployed them in the healthcare, retail, customer service and entertainment sectors. Virtual Assistants offer improved user experiences, provide round-the-clock service and enhance operational efficiency. Incorporating a human-like interface creates a more relatable and engaging interaction, fostering better customer satisfaction and loyalty, and ultimately benefiting businesses.

We had the opportunity to meet one of EPAM's Virtual Assistants, Vivien, who was showcased at various conferences. Can you tell us where she was presented and how the audience reacted?

Vivien, our Virtual Assistant, has appeared at conferences such as GDC (Google Developer Conference), MWC Barcelona and IBC.

The audience's response has been intriguing, with many individuals expressing curiosity about her background and interactions. Surprisingly, the questions the audience posed leaned more toward personal aspects rather than solely business-related inquiries. This observation led us to reflect on the potential of such AI technology in connecting on a deeper, more personal level.

Do you believe that the use of Virtual Assistants and AI, in general, will transform the future of business and add a new dimension to digital transformation? How do you envision the future possibilities of utilizing Virtual Assistants? 

Without a doubt, the integration of Virtual Assistants and AI will introduce a new dimension to digital transformation. These technologies have the power to make digital interfaces more empathetic, understandable and efficient. Looking ahead, I foresee immense possibilities for utilizing Virtual Assistants in personalized education, healthcare, mental health support and companionship. We have only just begun to scratch the surface of what Virtual Assistants can accomplish in the future. 

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