Voice agents such as Siri and Alexa are all the rage, but they are ultimately limited in what they can do and are a long way from having a real human assistant. At least for the next few years, artificial intelligence will need a helping hand from human intelligence to handle more complex tasks. Unfortunately, human assistance is a luxury that’s often unattainable for those running a lean organization.
A service called Magic seeks to bridge the gap. Magic is an on-demand personal assistant that you access via text messages. It’s staffed by a mix of humans and machines but you never feel as if you’re speaking to a computer. There’s no need to address it by name as there is for voice-activated assistants. Magic doesn’t have its own app, instead relying on text messages or the messaging app Telegram.
Magic can also do things that simple digital assistants cannot. Don’t have time to sort a bill or schedule a location for a meeting? Ask Magic to do the legwork for you. Need something bigger? Magic uses the example of needing to get keys flown across the country. Perhaps the best part of the service is that, unlike other services, Magic doesn’t’t require a subscription fee. Its services are billed by the minute at a flat $ 35 per hour and it is scrupulous about ensuring that you are billed only for the time spent actively fulfilling a request.
Also, unlike dealing with agents such as Siri, Magic generally doesn’t have any issue understanding your request. The service claims it employs highly trained, well-compensated, college-educated staffers, Magic invites you to ask it nearly anything. It also recently launched a business-focused version as it can only work with one credit card on file per account. However, it does recognize that a personal and business account may apply to the same person.
That said, while the service may promise magic, it can’t deliver miracles. Its invitation to toss anything at it reflects a bit of overconfidence at this point; Magic’s agents explain that it is biased toward lower cost options that might not always be the most effective ones.
For example, when it comes to more complex tasks, such as hiring freelancers, Magic may only be able to find you a few folks who match a set of profiles on a site such as Upwork. A request to track down a hard-to-find item online proved fruitless, even as Magic set up alerts on sites designed to track such items.
In short, at this point the service is adept at conducting the kinds of tasks you might do yourself using many self-service online tools. In my experience, it had a hard time closing the loop on tasks, thus truly putting them out of mind. And while it is good about checking in on time spent on a task, I’d prefer upfront estimates as well as queries about options as tasks progress.
But as is the case for purely digital assistants, using Magic may be considered an investment that will pay off as it better understands your needs. Even more optimistically, Magic may gain from sharing best practices among clients if it can build a sizable customer base.