Ghosts in the machine
> Tech giants are now competing to develop the perfect artificial intelligence for their various devices
MAJOR technology firms are racing to infuse smartphones and other internet-linked devices with software that helps them think like people. The effort is seen as an evolution in computing that allows users to interact with machines in a natural conversation, telling devices to tend to tasks such as ordering goods, checking traffic, making restaurant reservations, or searching for information.
The artificial intelligence (AI) component in these programs aims to create a world in which everyone can have a virtual aide that gets to know them better with each interaction.
Here are some of the offerings available:
Google Google is making a high-profile push into AI, with the internet titan’s chief referring to it as a force for change as powerful as smartphones.
Google Assistant software is being built into new Pixel handsets – aiming to outdo Apple’s Siri – enabling users to organise and use information on the devices and in the cloud – to check emails, stay up to date on calendar appointments and news, or ask for traffic and weather data.
Google also offers AI through its Allo messaging app which can be installed on smartphones, and its Google Home hub, a standalone device similar to Amazon’s Echo which responds to voice commands to manage tasks and fetch information where people live.
Samsung The South Korean electronics giant moved to jumpstart its AI efforts by purchasing the US startup Viv Labs, launched by the creators of Apple’s Siri.
Samsung says the acquisition, announced this month as part of its effort to provide AI-based voice assistance services to its customers, can be used across all Samsung devices and products, from smartphones to televisions to washing machines.
Besides Google’s free Android software, Samsung’s smartphones are also powered by its own Tizen mobile operating system. How this new virtual assistant technology will be integrated to both systems remains to be seen.
Amazon Amazon in 2014 unveiled its Echo home assistant, a voice-activated speaker, powered by its Alexa AI program. Users can ask for news or information updates, as well as order goods from the online retail giant. Echo also serves as a connected-home hub, which can control compatible appliances, lightbulbs and other devices.
Since introducing Echo, Amazon has launched a smaller version called Dot, and has integrated Alexa into its Fire TV devices.
Microsoft Microsoft’s personal assistant uses the name Cortana, and is available on Windows devices and its Xbox console and as an application on Apple iOS and Android devices.
Unveiled in 2014, Cortana – a name based on a character in its blockbuster game Halo – responds to conversationally-spoken requests or commands, using insights gleaned from calendars, contact lists, online searches and other smartphone sources to respond in a manner akin to a real-life aide.
Facebook Facebook, heavily investing in artificial intelligence, is widely believed to be working on a personal assistant with the codename M. The social network’s founder Mark Zuckerberg has said he wants to create a real-life version of Jarvis, the almost human-like computer assistant in the Marvel Comics series Iron Man. For now, Facebook is enabling AI-powered ‘bots’ on its Messenger mobile app, which allows users to get answers to questions and engage in text exchanges as though chatting with the social network itself.
Apple Apple was the first to offer its personal assistant, introducing Siri for the iPhone in 2011, and has been working to improve it over the years. Recently, Siri was upgraded to interact with non-Apple apps, so users can book a ride with Lyft or make payments using Square Cash. Apple has also introduced a Home application that can connect with smart appliances and other devices, and is reportedly working on a standalone speaker similar to Amazon Echo and Google Home. – The Independent