SGT STAR, "an intelligent interactive guide that personalizes responses for each Web site visitors," makes his official debut today on GoArmy.com, having graduated from testing that began last August. The software sergeant is based on Spokane, Wash.-based Next IT's ActiveAgent technology, which aims to reduce the cost of online customer service through artificial intelligence.
SGT STAR's duty is to answer questions from potential recruits, and within the confines of his database of knowledge he does quite well. Asked "How long is the average tour of duty?", SGT STAR responded, " The length of a tour of duty would depend on how long the unit you are assigned to is tasked to stay in country. Normally, a tour of duty can be a year, but at times it could be less or more."
Faced with questions outside his pre-programmed expertise, however, he's less helpful. Asked "Who is the Secretary of Defense?", he answered, "That is a good question, however, I am not positive that I understand what you are asking. Try rephrasing your question. I understand simple questions best." The sergeant wasn't any more helpful in answering the question, "If I joined the Army, would I have to get an anthrax vaccination?"
To his credit, SGT STAR offers to refer questions to a live U.S. Army representative if he can't provide an answer.
The Army's goal, however, is not to provide an encyclopedic resource about all matters military. Rather, it's to engage visitors online, and by that measure SGT STAR is a success.
"We've tested SGT STAR for several months on GoArmy.com, and in comparison to the site without him, we've seen longer session times, excellent accuracy, and increased questioning among users," said Gary M. Bishop, deputy for the Strategic Outreach Directorate for the U.S. Army Accessions Command, in a statement.
Since the sergeant arrived for testing in August, the result has been a fourfold increase in the length of user's sessions. Having fielded over half a million questions with 92% accuracy, the Army reports, "SGT STAR has been promoted to the GoArmy.com home page."
As SGT STAR's career continues, he can expect to receive further training to help him recognize misspellings and IM shorthand. The Army anticipates such skills will improve the online user experience for its 17- to 24-year-old target audience.