Digital voice assistants: Apps-Be-Gone!
Iam visualizing the post-app world here, a time when apps will no longer rule our digital world the way they do today. A world in which the information you want or the task you need carried out is accomplished for you by a digital assistant with whom you communicate verbally.
In those days, you did this - I mean, talking to machines - and people might think you were insane. But this might actually be the way of the future - talking to machines (smartphones, gadgets, your refrigerator, anything), to have them do stuff for you. You speak to them; they talk back to you and/or carry out orders for you. You give them commands, they respond by speaking back to you or simply carrying out your orders. You can even ask them to tell you some jokes.
Enter the world of artificial intelligence (AI) and digital voice assistants. Some of them can instantly answer thousands of questions about mathematics, unit conversions, weather, sports, and the stock market. This even could potentially be a great tool for learning.
Every one of the five big high tech companies has its own digital assistant: Amazon’s Alexa, Apple’s Siri (in iPhone), Google’s Google Now (in Android smartphones), Microsoft’s Cortana (in Windows smartphones), and Facebook’s M. Also on the horizon is Viv, which is being developed by the original creators of Siri.
A comparison of these assistants has been carried out by many people, for example Brian X. Chen of Cheatsheet.com. The categories covered include music, productivity, travel and commuting, dining, entertainment, and sports. On a scale of 4, Chen grades the assistants as follows: Google, 3.1; Siri, 2.9; Cortana, 2.3; and Alexa, 1.7.
Facebook’s M was not graded because Chen was denied access to the assistant. He felt that M is not yet as developed as the others, with the suspicion that a person handled most of the questions that he posed, rather than AI: “Humans are on the other end of the puppet strings handling tasks that artificial intelligence cannot!”
Google Now was judged to be the best for travel and commute-related tasks. It gave useful information on traffic, providing voice directions and a map. When asked for plane tickets, it gave a starting price and information on the duration of the shortest flight.
Siri (Apple) is the best for productivity tasks, including calendar appointments and email. It could schedule a meeting, using the information on your calendar, send an email, and read the most recent email aloud. The other assistants could complete only some of these tasks. The performance of Siri on musicrelated tasks is also judged to be good, but not as impressive as Alexa.
Chen finds Cortana (Microsoft) to be “mediocre” across the board: “The assistant faltered when asked about flight information, couldn’t offer traffic estimates, and offered directions to the wrong destination.” However, Chen reports that Cortana performed well in sports’ news.
You might want to know which of the assistants is most considerate of your privacy. Assistants need access to your information in order to do what you ask them to do. For example, they need access to your contacts so they can send messages for you. Also, they need your location in order to find businesses near you, and need access to your calendar, so that they can add events.
As J.D. Biersdorfer, a reporter for The New York Times stated: “When you use voice commands with a personal assistant, your audio data can also be sent to the company’s servers for processing, and for improving the system’s voice recognition abilities.” Your browsing activity and search history can also be used for all sorts of things - including providing you more relevant search results or directing more relevant advertisements your way. Thus, to get the best from a personal assistant, you need to invariably give up some of your privacy.
Google is famous for using your personal data to target ads to you and associate your device identifiers or phone numbers with your Google account. Siri is more considerate. When she sends your information to
Apple’s servers, it does not associate the information with your Apple ID, so that your searches and locations can’t be traced to you.
Microsoft gives you the ability to limit your use of Cortana in a way that allows you to retain control of the information that Cortana collects about you.
Artificial Intelligence (AI) might as well be the future of high tech!