Great, I thought, just what the world needs – another virtual human who will not understand my question and send me off down the wrong road in my search for an answer. So when Continental Airlines announced yesterday that they had launched “Alex,” the airline’s virtual expert on their web site, I had to go and give him a test run. First of all, Alex is a female.

I asked Alex a variety of questions on topics from lost luggage, to flights from Honolulu to Vegas, and then some. To my surprise and delight, Alex was able to respond to my questions and took me to the correction destination on their web site each and every time. Well, almost. When I asked what their change fee is, Alex responded, “All tickets are subject to the terms and conditions agreed upon when purchased. Use this page to view your reservation’s terms and conditions.” So I didn’t get a direct answer, but I hold out hope that if I really did have a reservation, I could enter in my confirmation number and get an answer based on my particular ticket.

And what if I were an irate customer and just could not help myself from forming my question with naughty words? Alex very calmly said, “Hey, let’s keep this clean.” I replied, “Oh, okay; I’m sorry.” Wait, I’m being reprimanded by and apologizing to a virtual human.

From booking a flight, to helping customers understand visa requirements for international travel, Alex allows Continental to provide the same high-touch service available within the call center environment, for customers on the web. Continental is the first network carrier to offer human emulation technology.

Customers visiting can click the Alex icon to open a chat window where they can enter a question. Alex responds with both a written and spoken response. The customer is then automatically navigated to the specific place on that answers the question and provides other helpful links in the chat window.

Prior to launching the technology, Continental tested the product with 3,000 of the airline’s most frequent flyers and with reservations agents at Continental’s call center in Salt Lake City.