As­sis­tant rev­o­lu­tion is com­ing

Each one of us will one day have a sin­gle vir­tual as­sis­tant per­son­alised to us, writes Richard MacManus.

The Timaru Herald - - TECHNOLOGY&SCIENCE -

Smart­phones have dom­i­nated the last 10 years of com­put­ing, but we’re on the cusp of the next big plat­form: voice-ac­ti­vated vir­tual as­sis­tants, pow­ered by ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence.

While the smart­phone isn’t go­ing away, you’ll soon be able to in­ter­act with many more de­vices thanks to as­sis­tants such as Ap­ple’s Siri and Ama­zon’s Alexa. All the big tech­nol­ogy com­pa­nies – Ama­zon, Ap­ple, Google and Mi­crosoft – are build­ing as­sis­tant plat­forms. But per­haps the most promis­ing is Sam­sung, which just an­nounced a new AI ver­sion of its Bixby as­sis­tant. Bixby 2.0 in­cludes the in­te­gra­tion of soft­ware called Viv. If you haven’t heard of Viv, it was cre­ated by the same peo­ple who de­vel­oped Siri.

Af­ter sell­ing Siri to Ap­ple in 2010, the founders even­tu­ally left Ap­ple and started a new com­pany: Viv Labs. Their goal was to cre­ate a bet­ter ver­sion of Siri, this time us­ing ad­vanced ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence. Viv Labs was ac­quired by Sam­sung last Oc­to­ber, be­fore it had even re­leased a prod­uct. Now, a year later, Viv is fi­nally see­ing the light of day. And it won’t just be on smart­phones.

At a de­vel­oper con­fer­ence last month, Sam­sung chief prod­uct of­fi­cer Gilles BianRosa an­nounced that Bixby 2.0 will be in­te­grated into its TVs next year. And that’s just the be­gin­ning. One ad­van­tage Sam­sung has over its competition is the va­ri­ety of hard­ware it sells.

As well as smart­phones, tablets and TVs, Sam­sung is a lead­ing brand for wash­ing ma­chines, re­frig­er­a­tors, dish­wash­ers and other house­hold ap­pli­ances. Ex­pect all th­ese to have Bixby added in the near fu­ture. Sam­sung is also look­ing be­yond its own range of hard­ware. As part of its ini­tial push for Bixby 2.0 next year, it’ll be re­leas­ing a spe­cial don­gle that plugs into ev­ery­day de­vices. The don­gle will con­tain a mi­cro­phone and wi-fi con­nec­tiv­ity, en­abling it to turn a dumb de­vice into a smart ob­ject.

As if colonis­ing all your house­hold de­vices isn’t enough, Sam­sung will re­lease a soft­ware de­vel­op­ment kit (SDK) for Bixby 2.0. This will al­low third-party com­pa­nies to in­te­grate the as­sis­tant di­rectly into their prod­ucts.

Sam­sung isn’t the only one do­ing this. Google As­sis­tant and Ama­zon’s Alexa have al­ready re­leased SDKs. So far they’ve been used to in­te­grate a voice as­sis­tant into TVs, dish­wash­ers and even home ro­bots.

De­spite the competition, the Viv team could be the dif­fer­ence for Sam­sung. Viv’s founders pi­o­neered as­sis­tant tech­nol­ogy with Siri and are big thinkers about its fu­ture.

Viv’s chief ar­chi­tect, Adam Cheyer, of­ten talks about the voice as­sis­tant plat­form be­ing the next big par­a­digm in com­put­ing.

Ac­cord­ing to Cheyer, par­a­digm shifts tend to hap­pen once a decade. In the 1980s, it was the PC and Mi­crosoft Win­dows. In the 1990s, the web. About 10 years ago, smart­phones shook up the land­scape once again.

Cheyer thinks the next big thing is as­sis­tants. He imag­ines that be­fore long, each one of us will have a sin­gle vir­tual as­sis­tant. It will be per­son­alised, un­like the smart­phone rev­o­lu­tion, it won’t be re­stricted to one de­vice.

But the as­sis­tant rev­o­lu­tion won’t hap­pen un­til thou­sands of third-party ser­vices start us­ing it as a plat­form. That’s what hap­pened in each of the pre­vi­ous eras. One ex­am­ple: mu­sic soft­ware started as a floppy disk (or per­haps a CD-ROM) in a PC, then it mi­grated to a web­site on the web, and then it be­came a smart­phone app (Spo­tify is the most pop­u­lar at present).

In the as­sis­tant rev­o­lu­tion, a com­pany such as Spo­tify will use that tech­nol­ogy to al­low you to ac­cess and in­ter­act with your mu­sic any­where. If you’re in your liv­ing room, it’ll be through speak­ers; if you’re in your car, through your stereo; if you’re at the gym, through your phone and a pair of head­phones; and so on.

Of course, this has al­ready started to hap­pen. If I’m at the gym, I can tell Siri to open Blue­tooth on my phone and start play­ing Bob Dy­lan. Sure enough, my wire­less head­phones will au­to­mat­i­cally con­nect to my phone and I’ll hear Dy­lan’s craggy voice. So the tech­nol­ogy al­ready works, al­though it’s in­con­sis­tent and Siri has a lim­ited range of voice com­mands at this time.

Once vir­tual as­sis­tants ma­ture, the kinks will be ironed out. But more im­por­tantly, as­sis­tants will be­come ca­pa­ble of per­form­ing more com­plex tasks.

As­sis­tants will also get to know you ex­tremely well and learn your un­stated pref­er­ences. That’s where Sam­sung’s Viv may have an edge. Viv is re­ported to have ‘‘a patented ex­po­nen­tial self-learn­ing sys­tem’’, en­abling it to rapidly teach it­self based on in­put from you (the user) and all those third par­ties.

In a year or two, per­haps your Bixby or Siri will know from past ex­pe­ri­ence that, ac­tu­ally, you pre­fer Lorde at the gym and not Dy­lan. Or even bet­ter, it’ll of­fer up some­thing you’ve never heard be­fore – which mirac­u­lously makes you run faster or pump iron harder. All thanks to its clever AI soft­ware.

At least that’s the vi­sion of Sam­sung, Ap­ple, Google, Ama­zon and Mi­crosoft, any one of which could be­come the Win­dows or iPhone of the AI as­sis­tant gen­er­a­tion.

Richard MacManus (@ric­mac) founded tech blog Read­WriteWeb in 2003 and has since be­come an in­ter­na­tion­ally recog­nised com­men­ta­tor on what’s next in tech­nol­ogy and what it means for so­ci­ety. cam­era mar­ket in the United States with Sony tak­ing its spot. Canon is still No.1.

They are the sort of re­sults that makes you com­pare Nikon to Ko­dak, which failed to tran­si­tion from film to dig­i­tal and even­tu­ally filed for bank­ruptcy.

Nikon, which still makes ex­cel­lent cam­eras, is not go­ing to dis­ap­pear any­time soon, but it does need to do two things: in­no­vate and try harder to win over cam­era fans.

Com­pa­nies like Sony, Fu­ji­film, Olym­pus and Pana­sonic are more in­no­va­tive and will­ing to take risks. They have all been ag­gres­sively re­leas­ing mir­ror­less cam­eras that are be­com­ing more pop­u­lar as the tech be­comes com­pa­ra­ble with tra­di­tional DSLRs.

And while Canon and Nikon still have hardcore fans, more peo­ple are flock­ing to on­line com­mu­ni­ties cre­ated by the smaller man­u­fac­tur­ers.

Win­ning the hearts of fans is key in an in­dus­try that’s dom­i­nated by so­cial me­dia. Nikon can’t sur­vive by just re­ly­ing on its fa­mous name to sell cam­eras.

All cam­era mak­ers face tough times. Smart­phones have eaten away at their sales and prof­its and the good times are long gone.

What’s left is an all-out fight for sur­vival.

Nikon is show­ing signs of a fight back. A few months ago it re­vealed it was re­leas­ing a new high-end mir­ror­less cam­era but it’ll need more than a new model to stop it from the same fate as Ko­dak.

Sam­sung’s Bixby as­sis­tant in­cludes the in­te­gra­tion of soft­ware called Viv, which was cre­ated by the same peo­ple who de­vel­oped Siri.

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