A robot just gave your insurance agent a pink slip. Blame the machine’s whisperer: Snejina Zacharia.
On Thursday, the 39-year-old took aim at the $220 billion-a-year US auto insurance industry when she launched Insurify. Technically, her Cambridge, Massachusetts-based startup isn’t an insurance company. Rather it helps you sort through the maze of competing companies, their premiums and those dizzying coverage plans. Think of it like Travelocity for auto insurance.
To do it, she uses a robot — well, not literally, just really smart software. Move over Jake from State Farm and Flo of Progressive, both stars of TV commercials for the insurance business. Your replacement’s name is Evia, short for “expert virtual insurance agent.”
Snap a photo of your license plate, text it to Evia, which will ask you a few questions via text and then scour 82 different insurance carriers’ plans to find you the best plan for the money.
“No one in the industry is doing that,” according to the Bulgarian-born founder and CEO, who says the process happens in an “instant.”
In other words, Evia is just like your old insurance agent, except she’s faster, smarter and cheaper.
Silicon Valley has a few technological obsessions these days. Virtual reality is one. Big data is another. But none threatens to replace people’s jobs like its investments smart machines — think computer programs that can understand human language, sort through vast stores of data, make sense of patterns and even teach themselves.
To be sure, fears of machines taking our jobs are older than the cotton gin. Nearly every major technological development in the 222 years since its debut has come with predictions of mass unemployment. They were wrong (mostly). After all, the last two centuries of technological revolutions haven’t been ones of continuously rising unemployment.
Sure, new tech has made a lot of jobs obsolete, but new careers have risen in their wakes. Cars might have made the buggy whip maker totally useless, but they also made the car mechanic necessary.
This time, though, might be different. The recent and rapid advances in the fields of machine learning and artificial intelligence look likely to replace, or at least radically change, careers once thought immune from automation.
“It’s taking us to a jobless future,” says Vivek Wadhwa, who oversees research in fields including robotics and artificial intelligence, at Singularity University, a think tank in Silicon Valley. “Over the next 10 to 15 years, I see major parts of the economy being wiped out.”