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`I'm Mavis, how can I help you?'

FOR THOSE telephone callers irritated to distraction by computerised switchboards, their worst nightmare is coming. And her name is Mavis.

She can handle 56 calls at once, in up to seven languages. Furthermore, as the makers note, she will work without demanding a holiday, or even a lunch break, or even time to sleep.

Mavis - which stands for Multi Language Automated Voice Independent System - is not a person; it is a piece of software that runs on a standard PC. It works by recognising words from a caller's voice and matching them to a database of names and departments within a company. Ask for "John Smith" and the computer will find that person's extension and put you through; it can even be programmed to ask you first for your name, which it will repeat to Mr Smith.

Mavis was developed by PTT, a subsidiary of the US company Carnegie International, and is being marketed in the UK by Graham Burrough."Mavis can do all the things that a receptionist can, apart from make the coffee," said Mr Burrough. "The voice quality means most people calling won't realise it's a machine."