If you haven’t been under a rock for the past couple of years, you probably heard of personal assistants such as Siri, Alexa and Google Home that have been flooding houses in America. Some people love to ask them whether they should bring a raincoat to work or not and what is the meaning of life, but sometimes they won’t do a great job (especially with the latter one). The most common frustration consumers experience with these assistants is being misunderstood. Ever since the major selling of personal assistants last Christmas, the internet has been blowing up with mishaps made by them. Like when a Twitter user asked Alexa to turn on the living room lights and it decided to play Bon Jovi’s “Living on a Prayer”.
Or when it ordered a $170 doll house for a Texan girl who asked if Alexa could play dollhouse with her. With so many users across the country, accidents and glitches are bound to happen. With that in mind, the big voice recognition assistant companies have been making adjustments to how they function. During the World Wide Web conference in France, Amazon announced some new features that might help you break the ice with your personal assistant.
- The first one is long overdue for Alexa: Memory capabilities. Having been implemented in Google’s assistant for a while now, extended memory does exactly what it sounds like – remember things you won’t (or don’t want to). Let Alexa know that your best friend’s birthday is in 3 months and she will keep you posted.
- The second one is perhaps the most exciting and Sci-Fi-esque of all: Context carryover. This will help users to have a more natural conversation with the assistant. As of now, If you ask “what’s the weather in Boston today” it will respond easily, but if you follow up with “What about tomorrow?” Alexa will most likely blow you off. With context carryover, it would know you just asked about Boston weather and give you a proper answer about tomorrow instead of the cold “I’m sorry”.
- Alexa can be a skilled machine. Not Kung-Fu skilled, but close. One of the new additions is more skills, which are third party apps that can be invoked through Alexa when you ask her a question that she doesn’t know the answer for – but another app or website might. The best part (or scarier, depending on your view) is that Alexa will be able to pick up these skills on its own, based on question asked by the user. Just make sure not to ask about opening the pod bay doors.
This is all fun and good, but what does it tell us about the future of voice driven assistants? Well, for one we really are getting closer and closer to the classic conversational AIs like HAL-9000 from Space Odyssey or J.A.R.V.I.S from Iron Man. Being able to interpret and maintain a conversation is one of the key features that made these fictional characters so amazing and it’s becoming real – without the scary sentient features (at least for now). It also shows that they will be more useful as time goes by and more features are implemented. Asking about the weather is cool… for a moment or two… But when assistants can make your life easier by scheduling appointments, making reservations and answering questions you wouldn’t know otherwise – that’s when it becomes a real asset. Engineers are still working out a lot of the wacky things AIs do, but there’s a lot of room for improvement and we can expect tech giants working non-stop for them in the next few years.