Dig­i­tal voice as­sis­tants: Apps-Be-Gone!

Daily Trust - - BUSINESS -

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!

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