Today’s digital assistants are designed to abstract ever further away from pages of links towards synthesizing information on our behalf. For example,
Microsoft’s Cortana marketing material touts that it “gets to know you by learning your interests over time … she looks out for you, providing proactive, useful recommendations … stores your interests, friends, and favorite routines … continually learning about your world.”
Google’s Now is “about giving you just the right information at just the right time … alert you that there’s heavy traffic between you and your butterfly-inducing date … share news updates on a story you’ve been following [or] remind you to leave for the airport.”
Apple describes Siri as “the intelligent personal assistant that helps you get things done … send your messages, place calls, make dinner reservations … [even] track places like your location, home, or workplace [so] you can ask for help based on location [like] remind me to call my wife when I leave the office.”
Facebook announced its M as “a personal digital assistant … that completes tasks and finds information on your behalf … it can purchase items, get gifts delivered to your loved ones, book restaurants, travel arrangements, appointments and way more.”
You may not have unwrapped a robot on Christmas, but your new year will be filled with artificial intelligence.
“We’re going to start to see more personal assistants (in the new year), and the ones that are already online will get more useful,” said Brian Blau, an analyst at Gartner.
The assistants, sometimes referred to as “chatbots,” represent noteworthy advancements to computer programs that simulate conversations. Chatbots are not new — think Apple’s Siri or Microsoft’s Cortana.
But in 2016, you’ll encounter different, smarter varieties of chatbots, some appearing in your favorite social media applications.
“Chatbots are designed to answer questions, to perform searches, to interact with you in a very simple form, such as jokes or weather,” said Brian Solis, principal analyst with Altimeter Group. “Ultimately, they should be able to anticipate your needs and help you shop.”
These robot helpers are also expected to assume more human-like qualities in 2016, exchanging messages in a conversational style rather than a computer’s mechanical responses.
The human side of chatbots will be most apparent in mobile messaging applications such as Facebook Messenger, where the social network has already begun perfecting its own virtual assistant called “M.” M, first released to a small number of Messenger users in August, can strike up a conversation or crack a joke — but also book travel, make purchases or wait on hold with the cable company when you’re not in the mood.
Powered by both artificial intelligence and actual humans (who help train the digital robots), M is the digital equivalent of a secretary or hotel concierge. The persona was originally code-named “Moneypenny” after the fictional character in James Bond films.
Google is also working to add question-and-answer computer programs inside a messaging app, the Wall Street Journal reported last month. Google is likely motivated by a desire to gain ground in the mobile messaging realm, where rivals such as Facebook are far more dominant. The company also has a financial interest to remain at the forefront of Internet search, a behavior that, on smartphones, has migrated away from the traditional search engine.