Meet Viv

Caitlin McGarry ex­am­ines Viv – a cross-plat­form as­sis­tant that could re­place apps and chat­bots with con­ver­sa­tions

iPad&iPhone user - - CONTENTS -

Siri made the iPhone more re­spon­sive with ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence, but now its founders want to put AI in every de­vice you own. Dag Kit­t­laus, who co­founded Siri, left Ap­ple five years ago, but now he’s back with a new voice as­sis­tant named Viv that he pre­dicts will change the way we in­ter­act with not just our phones but our home ap­pli­ances, cars, and more. Viv has got­ten a lot of hype for a prod­uct that hasn’t shipped yet, but Kit­t­laus demon­strated Viv pub­licly for the first time at the re­cent TechCrunch Dis­rupt.

Right now, Viv is an iOS app, though it won’t al­ways be. You open the app and ask the as­sis­tant

ques­tions or is­sue com­mands. Th­ese can range from ba­sic queries like what the weather fore­cast looks like, which Viv quickly an­swers with Weather Un­der­ground data, or as com­plex as, “Send Adam £20 for last night,” and Venmo han­dles the trans­ac­tion. You don’t have to have th­ese apps in­stalled for Viv to work on your be­half.

The con­ver­sa­tions are cur­rently one-sided – the as­sis­tant doesn’t yet have a voice, though that will change by the time it’s ready to ship. And Viv def­i­nitely seems use­ful, though not all that unique in its cur­rent in­car­na­tion. The demo I saw at Dis­rupt re­minded me of Hound, an app that’s al­ready on the mar­ket and has a ro­bust ecosys­tem of in­te­grated apps that it pulls data from to an­swer your com­mands.

Viv wants to go be­yond apps, though like Hound, it re­quires de­vel­oper sup­port to make the as­sis­tant use­ful. Kit­t­laus said the startup has no plans

to build its own hard­ware, but it is in talks with hard­ware mak­ers to build Viv into their de­vices, so you won’t need a sep­a­rate app to con­trol your car dash­board or any of your smart home ap­pli­ances.

“No one com­pany in the world has the re­sources to plug in all the dif­fer­ent ser­vices,” Kit­t­laus said dur­ing his TechCrunch Dis­rupt demo. “That’s what Viv has spent a lot of time and money on. Each [as­sis­tant does] 20 to 30 dif­fer­ent things. Now it’s go­ing to tens of thou­sands of dif­fer­ent things.”

Com­puter, pro­gram thy­self

Kit­t­laus showed off Viv’s soft­ware back­bone, which he called dy­namic pro­gram gen­er­a­tion. While most voice as­sis­tants or bots have to be pro­grammed with pre­s­e­lected re­sponses to spe­cific queries and pull from one do­main at a time, Viv’s soft­ware fig­ures out the in­tent of your ques­tion and writes it­self. In re­sponse to a ques­tion like, “Will it be warmer than 20 de­grees at Lon­don Bridge af­ter 5pm the day af­ter to­mor­row?” Viv write a 44-point pro­gram to an­swer with Weather Un­der­ground data, but it can com­bine data from sev­eral dif­fer­ent sources to re­spond to a ques­tion in sec­onds. That’s im­pres­sive and dif­fer­ent.

While other com­pa­nies like Face­book are bet­ting big on text-based chat­bots, Kit­t­laus thinks voice con­ver­sa­tions – be­ing able to chat with your de­vices in nat­u­ral lan­guage with­out in­stalling and in­ter­act­ing with var­i­ous apps – are the fu­ture. But those as­sis­tants have to be more pow­er­ful than Siri, which is limited to Ap­ple de­vices and can’t an­swer many ba­sic ques­tions, let alone book ho­tel rooms and send Venmo pay­ments on your be­half.

Siri is re­port­edly still limited in its ca­pa­bil­i­ties be­cause of Ap­ple’s deep con­cern for pri­vacy, but the com­pany has been crit­i­cized for be­ing so slow to build more func­tion­al­ity into the iOS as­sis­tant. Siri isn’t even yet avail­able across all Ap­ple hard­ware, though ru­mour has it Ap­ple is fi­nally bring­ing Siri to the Mac this fall.

With Siri, Kit­t­laus and co. proved they can build ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence that scales. Now, they want to go even big­ger.

“Viv will be the in­tel­li­gent in­ter­face to ev­ery­thing,” Kit­t­laus said. “For de­vel­op­ers, this will be the next great mar­ket­place. The thing that comes af­ter App Stores is this new type of mar­ket­place that works for all dif­fer­ent de­vices.”

That’s an am­bi­tious goal, but Viv is still a ways off from see­ing the light of day. Kit­t­laus said Viv will see a “rolling launch” to­ward the end of this year, with de­vel­oper part­ners an­nounced around the same time.

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