Here, we present the case for one version of the AI-enhanced workspace: the introduction of your very own virtual, personal assistant. Smartocto is rolling it out at this very moment.

The educational speaker Sugata Mitra once made a case that if computers can replace teachers, then they should.

His contention was not that teachers are defunct or useless, but rather that by automating things which can be automated, the things that can only be done by humans will be given the attention they deserve. More than that, ultimately the benefits borne of democratised, more universal access would enable everyone to rise.

A few years ago, nobody had a piece of plastic to which they could ask questions and have it answer back. The Greeks spoke of the oracle of Delphi. We’ve created it. People don’t talk to a machine. They talk to a huge collective of people, a kind of hive.

Sugata Mitra

Sugata Mitra 2016

If you could delegate the parts of your work that can be automated, would you? Should you? Can you?

Let’s start with the last question.

Yes. In newsrooms everyone can have access to a virtual assistant. That technology is available now. You’re probably benefiting from elements of that already (even with something as simple as using Google, as explained by Charlie Beckett in a recent keynote).

Introducing the virtual assistant

Your virtual assistant can do the heavy data lifting - stuff that’s going to make your output better, but things which would take more time and expertise to operate manually.

We’re building it right now and the first version is coming in a matter of weeks. It’s going to be groundbreaking - and we know this because it’s built on solid, newsroom-centric foundations and principles.

We know everything about content performance. We’re starting to be able to translate this into actionable advice - and this is a game changer in the world of content analytics

Erik - new

Erik van Heeswijk CEO @ smartocto

It is not something that’s going to do your job for you; it’s best viewed as part of a toolkit, or as an additional staff member or co-pilot whose sole purpose is to take on specific tasks.

You need three things to get a virtual assistant to do its thing:

  1. impact data
  2. stories
  3. strategy

Because you’re a modern newsroom you should have access to all three (and if you don’t - start here).

virtual assistant

The four roles of our virtual assistant

From here, whatever your role in the newsroom, your new, ever-available virtual assistant will be on hand to offer:

  • Performance insights
  • Strategic advice
  • Personalised tips
  • Feedback

And, because AI-driven products and features are non-sentient, they’re other things too. Dispassionate. Objective. Literal. Able to process almost infinite amounts of information without breaking a sweat. Perhaps these things do refer to your coworkers, but they are most certainly advantageous traits of AI tools and features.

Can’t someone in the organisation do these things?

Maybe. But everyone’s busy, and in order to offer insights that are truly game-changing, it requires the distillation and analysis of so much data - and that’s not something your coworkers are likely to be able to add to already full workloads.

What does this mean in practice?

Firstly, because smartocto is building this, it’s designed with journalists and journalism in mind - it’s not just a generic machine. Your copyright is safe, and any summaries your virtual assistant makes are yours. It’s trained on your data, and it’s geared towards your role and brand.

Not amazed yet? Well, here are some possible outputs on a role-by-role basis:

virtual assistant

Nostalgia is, as they say, a bad business model. It’s a harsh truth, and never harsher than in the face of the threat - real, imagined and existential - that AI brings.

As for whether you would or should, if you can automate parts of your work, which would otherwise take up precious time, and do so without detriment to your job satisfaction, your purpose or your output, why wouldn’t you?

Could you work without a virtual PA?

Sure. But why would you, when the insights offered may well give you the edge you need to boost your engagement, reader loyalty and put you ahead of the competition?


This is our final blog for our dive into AI for smartoctober. Catch up on our other articles by following the link below - and we invite you to join our webinar on Future of AI in Newsrooms, where Erik van Heeswijk will further expound the issues and developments outlined in our series.