Intelligent computers are slowly conquering the real estate industry, but that doesn’t mean agents need to see them as enemies engaged in a battle for world domination.

Instead, a panel of experts on artificial intelligence (AI) at Inman Connect New York 2019 said that agents should see the increasingly powerful machines as tools, supplements, and even employees that won’t ever fully replace them.

“I think this notion of AI replacing real estate agents comes from this flawed thinking about technology,” Sarah Bell told a crowd of several hundred real estate professionals. “A much more helpful question is how can we connect a human agent to a computer so that they can collectively be more intelligent than an agent or group of agents.”

Bell is the co-founder of Aire Software, which in 2017 launched an AI-driven personal assistant called Rita. The company claims that Rita helps real estate agents by analyzing vast quantities of data and synthesizing it with third party information about their local market.

Bell further explained that Rita’s goal is to “supercharge” agents and help them more productively use the massive amount of data that they have to sift through. It’s data that can be useful, but which most human agents may not have the time or the ability to meaningfully use.

“All AI is geared towards predicting the best thing to do,” Bell continued. “So if you back AI out of the question it’s a lot of mental labor for humans to perform.”

Bell’s comments hinted at a certain amount of underlying anxiety running through parts of the real estate industry over the role of artificial intelligence. If the computers become too smart, the thinking seems to go, what exactly will be left for the humans to do?

But Bell repeatedly tried to assuage those fears. In her view, humans have a clear role in a world of smart machines: The humans will be the bosses.

“With artificial intelligence, it should feel supportive,” Bell said, adding that AI’s role is to serve as a “digital employee.”

Neil Dholakia, Keller Williams’ chief product officer, painted a similar picture while talking about Kelle, his company’s own AI-powered digital assistant.

Like Rita, Kelle is geared toward agents (albeit those at Keller Williams brokerages) and draws on a vast library of data to create things like neighborhood market reports. Dholakia said the goal is to move toward “that Star Trek-style of interface” where an agent can simply ask a question and have the machine respond back with useful information.

And like Bell, Dholakia cast artificial intelligence as a tool for agents — not their future mechanical overlord.

“We empower our agents,” he said.

Both Kelle and Rita are about a year old, and the world of AI personal assistants is still in its infancy. But Bell said that the world is rapidly getting closer to a future in which low-level tasks can be performed cheaply by machines that never get sick or need a day off.

It’s a future that humans have been dreaming about for millennia, Bell added, and finally it’s just over the horizon.

“It’s an exciting time to be alive,” she added.

Email Jim Dalrymple II

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