Why people are gushing about Amy

dear amy ingram

Amy Ingram is a dream personal assistant: professional, prompt and receptive to critiques.

She's scheduled tens of thousands of meetings for her clients -- and she makes those who use her services look good.

"Some people are like how the hell did they afford an assistant," said Dennis Mortensen, cofounder of X.ai, the startup behind Amy.

"They" can afford to pay Amy because she's not a human. She is an artificially intelligent personal assistant -- just look at her initials (A.I.) -- and right now, she's free.

All X.ai clients need to do is "cc" Amy on an email requesting a meeting. This tells her to take over the task of coordinating schedules and setting the date. Like a real-life assistant, clients grant her access to their digital calendar.

In fact, Amy helped coordinate my interview with Mortensen. An hour after she was cc'ed on the email to schedule our meeting, she suggested three times. I confirmed what worked best and, soon after, had a calendar invite.

Mortensen -- whose previous business sold to Outbrain in 2013 -- says his intention is to turn Amy into the anti-Siri.

"You can ask [Siri] anything, but she can't go very deep," he said. "We want to do the opposite."

For X.ai, this means that Amy will do one thing extremely well: Scheduling. And the company has raised $12 million from investors to do just that.

Amy has to understand the nuances of human language and personalities. That's one of the reasons why the startup is taking on a variety of clients -- from tech CEOs to dentists to students -- in its free beta mode. (Mortensen did not disclose the number of beta users but said the wait is "extremely long.)

If Amy can't find an immediate solution to a scheduling conflict, the hope is that she will continue to work on it until she solves it. The more meetings Amy takes on, the more she learns and improves.

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"We've allowed ourselves two years to solve this," said Mortensen, of X.ai, which launched in April 2014. "Good enough isn't good enough. Only near perfect is good enough ... If i don't trust Amy to set up meetings accurately every time, I can't use it."

The team has grown to 53 people, all working to perfect Amy. "It's always the last 2%," said Mortensen.

If all goes as planned, Mortensen hopes that Amy will launch to the public by early 2016. It will eventually charge a small monthly fee, around $9 to $15 per month (similar to what services like Slack charge), while still offering a free option. With a paid account, clients will be able to change Amy's name.

In perfecting Amy, one of the things X.ai has had to account for is gratitude. Even when people find out she's a machine, they continue to send her thank you notes. Though Amy has been taught to respond, she's had to learn that not every correspondence requires it.

"Amy needs to understand that you're not trying to cancel or reschedule [a meeting]," Mortensen said.

So far, clients seem happy. One -- a partner at a VC firm -- told me that Amy legitimately has changed the way he functions at work. He's been using her for over a year. Others have taken to Twitter to express their love for her.

"I've been trying out @xdotai to schedule meetings," tweeted bloglovin' CEO Giordano Contestabil. "It's pretty funny seeing people wishing a good weekend to a robot."

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