Singapore start-up creates virtual assistant to schedule meetings

PUBLISHED : Monday, 12 December, 2016, 12:17pm
UPDATED : Monday, 12 December, 2016, 10:37pm

Singapore start-up has created an artificially intelligent personal assistant which automatically helps users schedule meetings.

The virtual assistant, named Evie, is essentially a bot with its own email address. Users link their work or personal calendars to Evie and copy the bot’s email address into their own emails whenever they are trying to set up a meeting.

From there, Evie automatically checks for available timeslots in the user’s calendar, sends out emails to the other participants suggesting a date and time, and finally sends a meeting invitation to all parties once a date has been agreed upon.

It also knows when a participant sends an email to cancel or postpone a meeting, and will automatically send out a new round of emails to arrange another date or time.

The idea first came to co-founders Lee Jin Hian and Praveen Velu when they were both employees at Yahoo working to build a video platform. Members of their team worked in five different cities with varying time zones – Sunnyvale, New York, Bangalore, Taiwan and Singapore.

“Getting together for meetings was a real pain,” said Velu. “That’s how we came up with the idea to build a [virtual assistant to help schedule meetings].”

Lee left Yahoo in 2013 and began working on Evie, with Velu joining him shortly after. More than two years were spent on research and development before the company began beta testing last year.

A lot of work had to be done in teaching Evie natural language processing, allowing the bot to learn words and the intentions behind them, Lee said. For example, Evie had to be taught that lunch is not just a meal, but also one that is generally eaten between noon and 2pm.

“When people talk about AI in general it sets up these expectations around Hollywood AI like you see in the movies, so a lot of the challenge is to build something that meets those expectations in a reasonable way for an AI scheduling assistant,” Lee said.

Velu added that Evie’s users are mostly people who used to work in a corporate environment but are now working in start-ups and lack the corporate support infrastructure.

Recruiters and headhunters have also taken to using Evie, since much of their job requires them to spend time scheduling interviews and meetings between job candidates and clients.

“We’re automating the process for them, giving them time to go out and interact with candidates and meeting them … instead of spending a lot of time co-ordinating between two parties,” said Velu.