In a short promotional film released Sept 2015, Chinese celebrity “Angelababy” was transported into an animation where her life was made wonderfully easy by a newly launched service: an intelligent virtual assistant called ‘Duer’. Duer can book her into a hotel that allows pets (because it knows she has a cat), it can order her favorite latte from Starbucks, and it can find and buy her discounted tickets at her local cinema.
Duer is the latest addition to the roster of search, ecommerce and delivery services provided by Chinese technology giant Baidu – China’s Google. And it’s just entered a fierce race.
The five biggest technology companies in the Western world are each competing to create their own virtual assistants, your personal guides to help navigate the digital world. They are all ‘Artificially Intelligent’, which means they understand what you’re asking for, and learn your preferences, almost like a human assistant.
Facebook recently announced a concierge service called “M” through its which got Messenger app, and most people have already played with Apple’s Siri (which got a big upgrade last week for the new Apple TV). Add to that Google Now, Microsoft’s Cortana and Amazon which has the Echo, a voice-activated living-room device that can control the ambience of your home, and the stage is set for a showdown.
These companies are competing for high stakes – they get to be the platform through which you conduct your entire digital life. After all, you will be asking your Siri or Duer or Cortana to order food, book flights, make restaurant reservations, call a cab, have your car repaired, call Ryanair customer service and buy everything.
Just what’s in it for the winning company? The advantages are two-fold: (1) A deeper understanding of people that use their services (and exactly what they need), means the virtual assistants are the ultimate personal profiting tool. (2) Having this detailed dataset about your intimate needs, combined with knowledge of the routes you travel, your search history, and the content of your emails and texts means far better ad targeting, the primary revenue model for companies like Google.
Artificial Intelligence (AI) may still seem like the domain of geeks and scientists, but increasingly it is integrating itself into our everyday lives. “There’s an element of AI in everything we do,” says Behshad Behzadi, principle engineer of Google Now. “It’s just a way to interpret correctly either what the user is saying right now, or what they might need in the future.”
The impact of a machine that understands you and learns from your habits will stretch beyond the ability to speak a question into your smartphone and get an answer. An artificially intelligent assistant could make everyday decisions far easier, or even take them over completely.
The major advantage of artificially intelligent systems if that they can recognize and remember all interactions with the user, from sensors and speech. What this means in practice is that the services will become proactive: your virtual assistant learns more about you from your requests, along with your searches, texts and emails, and it will start to tell you what you need, without you having to ask.
Apple is already emphasizing this with its new iOS 9 update. One of the major features is called Proactive. So for example, if you often listen to music in the morning, your iPhone will offer up the Music app on the lock screen when you plug in your headphones. Or it may automatically bring up the Weather app when you first unlock it in the morning, if that’s a regular habit.
Eventually, the virtual assistant that wins – and the company behind it – will know you better than you know yourself, so you won’t be able to live life without it. That’s the ultimate prize. (You giving up all your personal information to them.)
Read Article (Madhumita Murgia | telegraph.co.uk | 09/18/2015)
It’s interesting to think that these companies are investing millions into personal assistants, in spite of the fact that millions of individuals would never give up this much personal information. But at the same time, I’m sure there will also be some privacy middle-ground where agreements can be made.
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