Without a doubt, technological advances are making us more productive. From artificial intelligence to chatbots to virtual assistants, many aspects of running our daily lives have become a breeze. We tell our virtual colleagues exactly what we need to do and a convenient reminder magically appears, vibrating every five minutes to ensure we’re not late for an afternoon meeting with our client across town (again).

Of late we have been wondering whether this quest for efficiency has overridden the pursuit and value of real human connection. While we may be gaining a bit of time and our response rates look really good in our Messenger console, are we adversely affecting our long-term, organic connection with our clients?

In real estate (like most sales-focused industries), client connections are among the most critical elements of success. That first phone call with a client (even if it’s just to schedule a meeting), typically reveals a lot about the prospect, and the agent, too. Even if it’s just a call, it’s still a first impression. And if there’s any doubt about the importance of these calls, troves of books and years-worth of training courses are a testament to the attention given to the subject.

We all know real estate agents are busy. Good ones are very busy. All too often they find it somewhere between overwhelming and impossible to follow-up immediately with leads, especially when online marketing systems are doing their jobs. Their ability to identify and land those strong leads quickly comes down to how good they are at making that first call (as well as how soon they are able to make it).

But good is now a relative value. And not one simply weighed against that of other agents, but also against those agents’ machines.

Using automated systems in the workplace is nothing new. For example, there are scads of not-so-clever chatbots and even the occasional clever one, like Clara, who takes over your email and interacts with your clients for you. But let’s not fall into the trap of looking into the past to assume what is ahead. We are rapidly entering a new era of machine intelligence and are inclined to believe that if a machine can beat the top player in the world at one of the most complex games ever invented, well, human good may quickly turn out not to be best.

It is no coincidence that perhaps the most groundbreaking new automation tool came from the same company that developed the Go game-playing mad genius AI. Revealed just a few weeks ago, Google Duplex presented a convenient way to book appointments by phone without ever directly calling anyone. And, in a huge advance compared to other systems, Google Assistant made the appointment while maintaining the veneer of a real person. With Duplex, Google Assistant is now positioned to address a new, verbal realm of human connectivity with a very plausible AI system’s spoken language. With this technology, the person on the other end of a call could believe they are having a genuine interaction with a person, and that is where the controversy surrounding Google Assistant’s ability to make phone calls lies.

The closer we get to fully automated technology, the more questions (and concerns) are raised on how it disrupts the human experience—and whether or not that is a good or bad thing. In the case of Google Assistant, the person on the other end of the call appeared to believe that they were having a genuine interaction with another person. Which begs the question: where does the line get crossed?

Are we erasing some necessary fabric of our success by letting automated “beings” run our daily tasks?
Or are we simply increasing our productivity in order to have time to build more meaning relationships with those we interact with?

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