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The Evolving AI Assistants: heads up

10 May 2017

Are AI assistants just a gimmick? Are they just for lazy teenagers who like to give orders (Hey Siri...)? What are they exactly and should we be paying more attention?  

Very recently Warren Buffet, not known for his preference to technology, was asked about the impact of AI. He commented  that potentially AI could lead to 10.000 less jobs at his insurance company Geico, something we have never seen before. He also said that AI could be "enormously disruptive, yet beneficial in making the economy more efficient”.

Inevitably, AI assistants will eventually implement the changes he is referring to.

But what exactly is an AI Assistant?

It all started with ELIZA, an early natural language processing computer program created using the LISP computer programming language in 1964 (!) at the MIT Artificial Intelligence Laboratory by Joseph Weizenbaum. Created to demonstrate how superficial man - machine communication could be by simulating conversation using pattern matching and word substitution, ELIZA gave users an illusion of understanding, but in fact had no built-in framework for contextualizing response.

This is the huge difference with today’s (and tomorrow’s) AI Assistants.

Given the following:

•  a Natural Language Processing module,

•  a Knowledge Base / Ontology,

•  an Inference Engine,

•  a Voice Recognition / Text-to-speech service,

•  an Image Recognition Service, and

•  and a Machine Learning based Personalization module

all implemented on powerful cloud based infrastructure, you have a powerful AI Assistant ‘digital employee’. You can then teach it to provide customer support, sell insurance policies, teach, advise on stock trading, tell you which car to buy and the list goes on. The more AI Assistants are used, the better they will get. No more overseas help desk outsourcing. The future of 'robotics' is actually in software and not in hardware. 

AI Assistants will redefine Search and Advertising

AI Assistants will revolutionize search and advertising. Google will have to reinvent itself as a personalized AI Assistant. It has already begun the process with Google Assistant but at the peril of this being a ‘backup’ side project that will distract resources rather than focus on what should be the main goal. The same of course applies to all major search engines.

Significance of AI Assistants

So, AI Assistants are not just a speech to text interface to search. They are the most significant dimension of AI technology, and they are evolving quickly. It is no coincidence that Google, Microsoft, Amazon, Facebook, Apple and Samsung are all investing in this.

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