Some of the people behind Siri, the voice of the iPhone's virtual assistant app, have developed a savvier bot called Viv.
Viv reportedly can order a pizza with your favorite toppings, hail a taxi ride to the dentist, or order flowers for your mom by drawing on data from other web services, such as FTD, Uber, and GrubHub, with little typing, clicking, or further input from you. Instead of pre-programming scripted responses to anticipated questions, as is common with Siri and other services, Viv's artificial intelligence will let her learn her users' preferences over time, say company executives.
"Tell Viv what you want and it will orchestrate this massive network of services that will take care of it," Dag Kittlaus, Viv's chief executive, told the Guardian.
The bot, which The Washington Post called "one of the most highly anticipated technologies expected to come out of a start-up this year," will make its first public appearance at a conference on Monday. It will be the latest addition to an increasingly crowded field of virtual personal assistants: artificially intelligent systems that are meant to make people’s lives easier by helping them tackle routine tasks.
Industry experts anticipate a future filled with partnerships between humans and machines, ranging from Viv, to your car, to maybe even your coffee maker.
"It's about taking the way that humans have naturally interacted with each other for thousands of years and applying that to the way they interact with services," Mr. Kittlaus told the Post. "Everyone knows how to hold a conversation," he said.
A slew of companies including Apple, Google, Microsoft, Facebook and Amazon are heavily investing in virtual-assistant software.
Though recent years have brought major developments in the arena of intelligent assistants – from Amazon’s Alexa, to Google Now, to Microsoft's Cortana – the quest to make machines that can communicate with people in an intuitive way has been in development for decades, dating back to the 1960s. Nobody has quite nailed it yet, say industry observers.
"We are going to be talking to our computers," agrees Oren Etzioni, who heads the Seattle-based Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence, which was set up by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen. "But the truth is, all the devices that exist today are short on actual ability compared with the kind of capabilities we want," he told The Guardian.
What we want, according to the people building intelligent robots, is a world with no apps to toggle among. It's "too inconvenient," according to one Forrester analyst. Instead, people are looking for a smart machine that can chat with us and make restaurant reservations without burdening us with the need to touch a screen or dial a phone.
"There's now a much bigger bar to get over if you're going to build an app," Forrester analyst Julie Ask told the Post.
If Viv works as promised, it could push the technology further than anyone else has, taking care of diverse whims, from flowers to dinner, thanks to its partnerships with companies like SeatGuru, Uber, and Grubhub.
As the Post reports:
Kittlaus is talking to television companies, car companies, media companies and makers of smart refrigerators in his quest to unite all of them into a single, unbroken conversation. The data from these services enables the Viv brain to seem "intelligent."