THE FUTURE OF THE VIRTUAL ASSISTANT

Recent advances in virtual assistant websites

To develop robots that can help humans in many areas And presage the emergence of a meta-intelligence capable of interconnecting objects.

In Stanley Kubrick’s masterpiece, 2001, The Space Odyssey, astronauts on a mission for Jupiter are assisted in their journey by HAL 9000, a robot with a highly developed artificial intelligence. The latter can converse with the crew as a human being, and serves as an intermediary to control the various features of the spacecraft. The development of the virtual assistant websites makes this fiction a little closer to reality. Artificial intelligence designed to support humans in different daily tasks, the virtual assistant has recently experienced a real boom.

On the supply side, we first witnessed significant advances in voice recognition technologies. The advances of the last three years have been better than those of the previous 30 years, to the point that machines are now more efficient than humans, according to Tim Tuttle , CEO and creator of MindMeld . Virtual assistants have thus become capable of understanding and responding to most questions posed by a human being. Advances in programming have also allowed them to engage in conversation and even humor. Many Internet users have fun to report online jokes Siri, the virtual assistant of Apple, whose sarcastic humor has nothing to envy to Tars , the end-to-end robot of Interstellar .

virtual assistant websites have also benefited from the development of programming interfaces, which add new features quickly and efficiently. In recent weeks, Alexa, the artificial intelligence of Amazon Echo, has become able to control the central heating , launch a Spotify playlist , order an Uber and deliver a pizza. Siri, meanwhile, has developed the ability to book a restaurant table and publish on Facebook for its owner. On the demand side, users are starting to get used to conversing with a robot, and consider this technology in a more natural and intuitive way, far from the perplexity tinged with embarrassment from the beginning.

virtual assistant is no longer just the voice of our smartphones. He now seconds the human being in all fields. The fintechs , where he determines the best time to transfer his money abroad; health , where the virtual assistant allows the doctor to effectively monitor patients with chronic disease; the automobile , where, evoking the famous Kitt K2000 , it becomes necessary to enjoy the wealth of connected vehicles without compromising its safety and that of others; work in the workplace, where artificial intelligence automatically schedules professional meetings  ; the connected house, where she can control the various smart devices in her home.

Towards a market concentration or segmentation?

This multiplication of specialized virtual assistants raises the question of the future of this brand new market. Are we headed to a myriad of ultra-specialized artificial intelligences, or, on the contrary, to a market dominated by a super-assistant capable of doing all the possible and imaginable tasks? The answer is probably somewhere in between. First, it’s important to distinguish , as does Dennis Mortensen , CEO and founder of horizontal and vertical assistants. The first, on the models of Siri, Cortana or Google Now, are versatile but unable to perform a specific mission over time. Vertical assistants, on the other hand, are specialized on a single mission, which they can take a while to complete. Where Siri can quickly answer a wide range of questions, Amy , the virtual assistant developed by is able to chat with several people to check their availability and propose a meeting date and time. everybody.

It is likely that we are heading towards a market oligopolistic horizontal assistants, dominated by the big names of new technologies: Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon and Microsoft in mind. They are engaged in a pitched battle to recover innovative young shoots to perfect their product. Google has disbursed $ 500 million to acquire DeepMind , a UK deep learning company; Siri was an independent start-up before being bought by Apple in 2010; start-up Wit.ai, which turns words and text into actionable data, was barely over a year old when Facebook bought itin 2015: its technology enabled the web giant to build its assistant M; Amazon has partnered with ecobee Inc. to help Amazon Echo control central heating … “Companies are contacted by Facebook and Google as soon as they announce what they are doing. Recently affirmed Matthew Wong , an analyst at CB Insights , in the columns of the Guardian . According to Oren Etzioni , of the Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence, interviewed by the newspaper, the future will belong to the company able to build a personal assistant on the model of the groom: able to have a sophisticated conversation, to give recommendations of high quality, then support each step of the query.

However, it is very unlikely that any of its actors will be able to design a virtual assistant able to provide all the possible specializations imaginable. ”  A central artificial intelligence, capable of performing immediate actions and answering questions, has an undeniable utility, but it differs completely from job-focused assistants, able to perform a mission over several days, and return to their user after handling the various ins and outs.  Says Dennis Mortensen. The same is true of Ron Di Carlantonio , CEO and founder of iNAGO, a pioneering artificial intelligence company, which has been developing virtual assistants in Japan for the past fifteen years: ” If we take the case of the medical assistant, it is necessary that it is a company that focuses solely on it, as the procedure is complex. The assistant must be able to answer medical questions and perform prescriptions, which requires some expertise in the field.  It is therefore likely that we are moving towards the establishment of platforms, basic standards from which everyone can build their own virtual assistant with a solid foundation. In the same way that we no longer start from scratch to build our website: many solutions offer a starting structure that can be customized.

Towards humanoid robots?

In the film Her , the character played by Joaquin Phoenix gradually falls in love with his operating system, artificial intelligence able to interact with him in a human way (and incidentally endowed with the sensual voice of Scarlett Johanson), to take charge his daily life but also to share his existential questions, to talk about music, love and the meaning of life. In an episode of the TV series Black Mirror, a young woman uses a robot adopting the personality of her deceased lover, which she can not mourn. Can we imagine that, in the near future, virtual assistants will become intelligent and efficient enough for this kind of scenario to become reality? After all, they are already able to have a real conversation with their users, without simply answering their questions. Their intellectual abilities make them very close to us. Where the robots, devoid of a very advanced intelligence, had to adopt an anthropomorphic appearance to be humanoids, that is to say to look like humans,

Ron di Carlantonio had before all the world (at the beginning of the 1990s), the idea of ​​constructing an artificial intelligence with which a human could interact as with a friend. If we are today very far from being able to reconstruct the complexity of the human brain (he states that even after fifteen years of work, his artificial intelligence is only at the level of a human baby), the method of deep learning can nevertheless allow machines to participate in complex discussions, by picking their answers from a huge database: ” The main challenge is that humans often ask vague and unclear questions. To overcome this problem, artificial intelligence can ask a series of questions to get the human to gradually clarify its original request. This is what we already do in Japan for call centers or after-sales services. Ultimately, the idea would be that the robot is able to dig into a large database of questions / answers, to lift the ambiguity of the question alone, without having to question its owner.  And so naturally answer complex or evasive questions, as a human being would do.

But one of the essential components of humanity is evolution, adaptability, the ability to react to the unexpected, a characteristic of which artificial intelligences are for the moment totally lacking. ”  We come up with artificial intelligences with excellent memory and easy navigation in their database, but intelligence is not just that. It is also the ability to find a solution to a new problem. Now, a program is able to solve a problem because we have programmed it for it.  Explains Ron Di Carlantonio. ”  What if we designed a program that could adapt on its own, to solve dilemmas that we did not prepare for, which we had not even thought of?This is what is called unsupervised learning  : giving the program the keys to learning from itself, to break free from the rules to think for yourself.

“This concept exists today, but it’s hard to do it right. Giving a program the freedom to choose its own actions means that it can do whatever it wants … and in many cases it will not do what is expected of it! This is why many virtual assistants, like Siri, have limited interactions. At iNAGO, we went a step further by combining predefined elements with more dynamic ones to allow more natural conversations with Mia, our digital assistant. In the future, we will certainly have programs that can adapt and evolve, and deep learning will be a way to achieve this. These will allow software to understand the huge variety of things a user can say, to discern what the user really wants, and to make sure that he is satisfied. Keeping control over these artificial intelligences that can go beyond what we have taught them will take time, but we are optimistic! “

We can eventually draw inspiration from the three laws of robotics Isaac Asimov , supposed to force robots to act for the sake of their human creators. However, these assistants are today mostly developed in Silicon Valley, and therefore designed to understand and converse with Western users. For the exchange to work as well with people of radically different cultures, it will probably require a phase of adaptation. And beware that the technique developed in Silicon Valley does not impose its standards to the rest of the world, forcing other cultures to adapt to use it, in short, that the technique dictates its rules to man, fear particularly evoked by Jacques Ellul in his book The Technician System.

This scenario, whether exciting or frightening, may be on our doorstep. At least that’s what the few articles published on the secretive start-up Viv , launched by the former creators of Siri three years ago, suggest . According to the information reported by the Guardian and Esquire , the company works precisely, as iNAGO, the creation of a program able to write his own program, and thus achieve a potentially infinite number of actions.

Change the face of the world?

If Viv’s company (or that of iNAGo, or any other company with similar goals) proves successful, the consequences would be simply explosive. For the user, first, who could make requests of great complexity, and let his assistant take charge of many aspects of his daily life. This could combine geographical conditions, weather and information from the contact list of the user to treat a request of the style ” If it rains tonight, find me a pizzeria near my brother.»No need to spend hours on flight comparators to find the cheapest airfares, or to peel the comments of Internet users to find the best hotel to stay on holidays: some indications given to the virtual assistant and this one will take care of all the organization of the trip.

But the creators of Viv do not intend to lock their assistant in a smartphone or a computer: ultimately, the idea is to design an agnostic platform, integrable to any connected object. In the age of the Internet of Things, it lacks a connector, a global brain capable of communicating between them smart devices, for an optimal user experience. Thus, the man of the future will be able to talk with his connected fridge to ask him what it contains. The latter will connect to a cooking site, such as Yummly, to offer its owner a simple recipe to make from the available ingredients and wishes of the latter (desires of the moment, specific diet, previous meals), suggest a wine s ‘agreeing well with these, and use Google Maps to indicate the nearest business where to get it. Artificial intelligence could also be integrated into my lawnmower to take care of the garden when I’m on vacation, and automatically order fertilizer from a supplier if needed … Combined with a website the wizard would suggest to his user that he shares with his last match a passion for the B-movies, and that the cinema in the area is just passing one of them tonight … should he take tickets ? Order an Uber to take the young woman home? Make a reservation after the session for this excellent gourmet restaurant, close to the cinema? Arrange flowers on the restaurant table? The possibilities are limitless. Artificial intelligence could also be integrated into my lawnmower to take care of the garden when I’m on vacation, and automatically order fertilizer from a supplier if needed … Combined with a website the wizard would suggest to his user that he shares with his last match a passion for the B-movies, and that the cinema in the area is just passing one of them tonight … should he take tickets ? Order an Uber to take the young woman home? Make a reservation after the session for this excellent gourmet restaurant, close to the cinema? Arrange flowers on the restaurant table? The possibilities are limitless. Artificial intelligence could also be integrated into my lawnmower to take care of the garden when I’m on vacation, and automatically order fertilizer from a supplier if needed … Combined with a website the wizard would suggest to his user that he shares with his last match a passion for the B-movies, and that the cinema in the area is just passing one of them tonight … should he take tickets ? Order an Uber to take the young woman home? Make a reservation after the session for this excellent gourmet restaurant, close to the cinema? Arrange flowers on the restaurant table? The possibilities are limitless. and automatically order fertilizer from a supplier when needed … Combined with a dating site, the assistant would suggest to his user that he shares with his last match a passion for B-movies, and that the cinema of the corner passes just one of them tonight … must he take tickets? Order an Uber to take the young woman home? Make a reservation after the session for this excellent gourmet restaurant, close to the cinema? Arrange flowers on the restaurant table? The possibilities are limitless. and automatically order fertilizer from a supplier when needed … Combined with a dating site, the assistant would suggest to his user that he shares with his last match a passion for B-movies, and that the cinema of the corner passes just one of them tonight … must he take tickets? Order an Uber to take the young woman home? Make a reservation after the session for this excellent gourmet restaurant, close to the cinema? Arrange flowers on the restaurant table? The possibilities are limitless. and that the cinema of the corner passes just one of them tonight … must he take tickets? Order an Uber to take the young woman home? Make a reservation after the session for this excellent gourmet restaurant, close to the cinema? Arrange flowers on the restaurant table? The possibilities are limitless. and that the cinema of the corner passes just one of them tonight … must he take tickets? Order an Uber to take the young woman home? Make a reservation after the session for this excellent gourmet restaurant, close to the cinema? Arrange flowers on the restaurant table? The possibilities are limitless.

In such a scenario, it is also the entire model of advertising on the Internet that would be upset, as suggested by Esquire. Some commercial sites today pay millions to Google to be among the first recommendations when a search corresponding to one of their products or services is entered by a user (for example, such site selling air tickets’ ensures to be in a good position when an individual enters a flight search). If tomorrow, everyone has a virtual assistant who knows his personal preferences and the best deals, the Google search ceases to exist. The entire advertising paradigm must be redesigned. The market of connected objects could likewise change completely facade: what will be the need for a smartphone tomorrow if a refrigerator is able to perform the same services? Why invest in an advanced computer when the connected wardrobe orders clothes on the internet? The famous creative destruction , dear to Joseph Alois Schumpeter , is on the horizon.

Joseph Alois Schumpeter

Traditional players will also have to adapt their model to this new situation in all sectors of the economy. Take the automobile, for example: it will quickly become essential, for manufacturers (many of them have even begun to do so), to offer a virtual assistant integrated to their vehicles, to offer a number of services to driver, as to warn him of the condition of the brake pads or the oil level for a long journey, or to suggest to him to install the chains in the event of risk of falling of snow … The assistant would thus play the role on-board mechanics, and could even recommend to the driver the brand’s garages located nearby. The added value of the manufacturer and switch slowly from hardware to software. iNAGO has been working with the major Japanese manufacturers for a few years, and has recently established links with an American manufacturer. In food, we can imagine a group like Danone weaving a partnership with MyFitnessPal, smartphone application to monitor its diet, to suggest to the user products to fill its nutritional deficiencies (milk in case of lack of calcium … ). By adding a connected watch in the balance, consumers could monitor their health indicators in real time and automatically order the products they need. In the financial sector, banks offer virtual assistants helping their clients place their money.

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