Siri. Cortana. Google Assistant. Alexa.
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These are all variations of today’s artificial intelligence-based assistants. They all let you do roughly the same things, like adding items to your calendar; sending messages; setting alarms and timers; and doing basic web searches for tidbits of information.
But they are also very limited in their capabilities. Having to repeat yourself three times to send a simple text message is far more frustrating than it should be. Often times, we get so exasperated in the attempt, we end up picking up our phones and keying in the message manually, grumpily complaining about our ‘stupid phone’. Worse, some people stop using these AI assistants at all, since it’s not worth the frustration to them. More frustrating is that these assistants are not intelligent enough to weed out the “umm’s” and stammering we typically use when dictating commands.
There’s so much more that AI can do, and will do, eventually, but I’d like it to happen sooner rather than later. I’ve used all the platforms to various degrees, and primarily interact with Siri since most of my devices are Apple devices. I’ve recently used Alexa, which I’ve found really disappointing from an AI perspective—but that’s a different article altogether.
For the most part Siri understands me, and gives me relatively decent answers, but what I find most frustrating is the limitations of having to use these AI assistants right now. For example, I’d like to have Siri notify me when a baseball game is over and tell me the final score. Sure, I can ask Siri what the current score is, but I’d like to know what the final score is once the game is over. Of course, this would also require that Siri know when I’m on a phone call, or in a meeting, so she doesn’t interrupt me at inopportune moments.
It would also be nice to provide a simple command that requires multiple steps to complete, and have Siri understand and do what I need. For example, “Siri, book me a flight to Chicago for work on Thursday, returning on Friday.” That request would require a number of different pieces of knowledge, like my corporate credit card details, company booking requirements, preferences for airport, comparing flight times with my schedule, and commute time, and many other things. It’s a complicated task, and one that takes significant time to accomplish for a human being. It’s also the reason why executives have human assistants for accomplipshing things like this. But if technology companies want to provide a truly useful assistant, these are the type of things they have to get right.
Other types of smarts would be nice, too, like having an intelligent alarm that lets me sleep in on days where I don’t have morning meetings, or waking me up with followups to items I needed from the day before. How great would it be to have Siri read me email responses to important items that I emailed overseas colleagues the day before, all while brushing my teeth?
There’s so much potential here, and of course technology companies are working on improving these AI assistants. Google is probably farther ahead than anybody else, though Apple has had the biggest head start (that they’ve squandered, sadly.) Even companies like Facebook are strongly investing in AI, with all the major tech companies indicating that AI is the future of computing. How long before we’re able to talk to the computer like in Star Trek? The future has started to arrive, but in tiny incremental steps, rather than the huge leaps we’ve seen in the past. And in today’s hyper-connected world, that’s just not fast enough.
Part of the problem is that these AI-based solutions require massive computing power, and huge databases of information to accurately perform their functions. These requirements prove to have privacy ramifications—and there’s no easy solution for these concerns. Google knows more about us than we do about ourselves, and how comfortable are we with that? Some are far more comfortable than others, whether their concerns are founded or not.
Still, one thing is clear: the future of technology is certainly going to be based around artificial intelligence and the increasingly complex things it can do for us. Already, companies are out there working on ways to complete complex tasks using algorithms, in order to make our mundane tasks slightly easier to accomplish — And to assist us in becoming lazier than ever.
I want more from artificial intelligence. The future can’t get here soon enough.