Back in the halcyon days of 2010, Apple launched Siri, which has become something of an icon. It was cutting edge technology for personal assistants, and could give concise replies to simple queries about reminders, the weather, and sports scores. Its sense of humor has also become somewhat iconic. But everyone knew back then that it was a stop-gap for better assistants in the future, with whom we would share deeper relationships.
Now the future is here in the form of Viv, a San Jose, Calif., based company with a product that shares the same name. The company claims that “intelligence becomes a utility” through Viv. It’s a big claim, but one that nonetheless seems plausible given the tasks it can carry out. Whereas Siri currently balks at anything more than “what’s the weather like” and its humor is based on canned responses, Viv can recommend actions on queries like “on the way to my brother’s house, I need to pick up some cheap wine that goes well with lasagna.” This is a big leap forward in what is known as general artificial intelligence (AI), which is what I want to talk about today.
Consider what a calculator does. It can do many calculations with the instructions given to it faster than the average human. But the range of its intelligence is very limited to only doing calculations. Siri is much like that. It’s broader than a calculator, but is still capable of giving nonsense results when asked simple queries. However, it does link a relatively narrow range of abilities to massive amounts of data in the cloud. When you ask it for the closest Pagliacci, it’s remotely accessing Google’s data centers via 4G and getting your answers.
But Viv is an early example of a broad AI that acts as a command and control bot that will carry out your tasks for you by controlling third party apps. With something like Siri, you have very limited control over non-Apple apps. This means that you can’t control Instagram through Siri, but you can through Viv. This means you can give it a request like “take a selfie and post it on Instagram,” and Viv will do it. Further, for every verbal request you make, Viv will dynamically spit back computer code to show you how it handled the request.
It seems to me that AI’s path into our personal lives will be through devices that we hold closest to us. While AI algorithms are already used in major industries like finance, retail, and manufacturing, it’s through the individual that it will make a difference. Today, when I’m bored, I can ask Siri to tell me a joke. In the future, as AI assistants become more and more advanced, will people develop even deeper relationships with their AI assistants?
This theme has already been explored in movies like “Her” and “Ex Machina,” and it might become even more common with the generation following millennials. A company called Jibo from Boston is already selling what it calls the first “Social Robot.” Jibo claims it “communicates and expresses using natural social and emotive cues so you understand each other better.”
It’s definitely a slope, and one that will require us to question our assumptions of what a relationship is. It may not necessarily always be a bad thing, as elder care robots are being developed in Japan. We already have deep relationships with non-human animals, and even personal objects like cars or jewelry.
Maybe bots, both physical and computational, will simply expand the rainbow of entities we can relate to.
Reach columnist Arunabh Satpathy at email@example.com. Twitter: @sarunabh