The battle for creating the ultimate virtual AI-powered assistant is heating up. Tech giants such as Google, Facebook, and Microsoft have all been working hard to make the next big breakthrough in AI. This would probably come in the form of a virtual assistant that can make minute, mundane tasks easier to handle. Living in the digital world is easier if we don’t have to deal with boring tasks. Virtual assistants will help ease these growing pains.
The human digital experience is facing a data overload. All of us have to deal with overflowing email inboxes, long to-do lists, work schedules, and tasks that seem impossible to organize without giving yourself a migraine. Our ancestors had simple lives; their agrarian life involved a handful of people and seasons. Our social circuitry could handle these demands and we still largely possess the same brain. However, technology has outpaced evolution and brought us to the brink of our information handling capacity. We need help, so we turn to AI and virtual assistants.
Two press releases came out recently from technology front-runners, Google and Facebook, and they have given a glimpse into their efforts to create the perfect virtual assistant of the future. Without much fanfare, Google revealed a new Gmail inbox feature called ‘Smart Reply.’ This aims to generate an intelligent, but automated reply to common emails that Gmail subscribers receive.
Google has been long pushing AI and semantic understanding to advanced levels. Their interest in this endeavor was proven when they launched the 2013 update to their search algorithm (called ‘Hummingbird’) and this change allowed Google to grasp the intended meaning behind a search query rather than the old method which simply considered queries a bunch of strings. The hiring of Ray Kurzweil, one of the foremost AI experts and speech recognition pioneers, played an important part in Google’s strategy.
Google’s approach to AI affects how it develops its virtual assistant, they focus on understanding human speech patterns and their meaning. This is a natural progression for the search engine giant. It must have realized that every email can be treated like a search query and can be analyzed. Communicating with someone means we are seeking information; it is basically querying. Since Google has a wealth of email data stored, it can simply generate a response to an email as well.
This opens up some philosophical questions and curious scenarios, but it will no doubt help ease our workload. Are we giving over too much power to machines? What happens if automated mails are replied to by automated generated replies? Will entire conversations happen without human intervention?
On the other hand, Facebook has opted for a different avenue when it comes to developing a virtual assistant. They are also interested in natural language processing and related aspects, but they have more visual data and their focus is on image processing.
Recent developments provide indications on how Facebook might go about developing their virtual assistant. A recent publication has studied how the ability of their AI makes inferences about a visual scene based on physics. For example, trying to understand if a stack of blocks are stable – and if they fall, when will they fall? The other study focuses on scene recognition from visual signals found in photographs. They are looking to develop algorithms that will accurately tell them what the photo contains.
These indications show that Facebook’s virtual assistant will benefit from enhanced vision capabilities and will be able to make sense of visual stimuli. This scene recognition holds immense promise in the field of robotics as well. Robots will be able to maneuver and understand complex environments such as homes, hospitals, and rough terrain. The visual and language aspects are both important if machines are to understand the world.
With these major companies focusing on advancing AI research, major developments are likely to be made. The future seems to resemble a science fiction novel and AI offers powerful solutions that will prove game-changing for the tech market and life-changing for the consumer. There is hope that we might soon see a capable virtual assistant soon.