From the same French startup behind WePopp, an app that makes it easier for friends to plan events together, comes Julie Desk, a new ‘virtual assistant’ to handle the back-and-forth typically associated with scheduling meetings and appointments.
The AI-driven service shuns the need for a separate app and, similar to U.S. competitor X.ai, uses the humble CC: field in your email client as its interface.
Simply CC “Julie” at the start of or during an email thread with the person you want to schedule a meeting with, and, in theory, the virtual assistant will take care of the rest.
This includes offering up potential meeting times — pulled in from your Google Calendar, Microsoft Exchange, or iCloud account — confirming the agreed time and place, adding it to your schedule, and sending out the appropriate calendar invites.
Furthermore, all of this takes place via email, using human-friendly language, as if Julie is a real person.
“Not everyone can afford a personal assistant, but a lot of people handle many appointments and meetings on a daily basis,” says co-founder and CEO Julien Hobeika, when asked to explain the premise behind Julie Desk.
“Based on our WePopp (and WeTime) experiences, we figured out that for those that felt the most pain in scheduling, offering them a tool that they’ll need to install and eventually get used to wasn’t the right solution. So we thought, let’s reuse all of our technology but instead of having our user running it as a regular tool, we would run it for them each time Julie is summoned by email.”
Hobeika says this also required a “huge step forward” from the startup’s previous apps, in order to develop the required Natural Language Processing (NLP) and Artificial Intelligence (AI) elements of the service. “It was a major decision during our pivot,” he adds.
To that end, Julie Desk isn’t wholly reliant on AI, but, so as to negate any false positives (which could have a devastating effect on a person’s schedule) also employs humans to oversee the work of Julie.
“At the moment the tech is using a lot of NLP for extracting relevant information from emails sent to Julie and a 50 per cent AI/50 per cent human combo,” says Hobeika. “What I mean by that is the AI is still at a learning stage so the AI is suggesting behavior for the service and a human is there to supervise and confirm that the behavior is indeed correct for the current situation. But as you can guess, the more we schedule appointments the better the AI.”
In other words, by utilising machine-learning, the virtual assistant should get smarter. However, Hobeika tells me that the human element, which is also what sets it apart from much better funded X.ai, will be kept for as long as necessary to enable Julie Desk to cope with “every edge case possible”.