We know them by name: Siri, Alexa, Cortana, Bixby. We talk to them as they were real people — we can’t be the only ones who say “please” and “thanks”, can we? — and we turn to them for all kinds of things: giving us directions, controlling our gadgets or just telling us whether we need an umbrella. But we’re just scratching the surface of what personal digital assistants can do.
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Artificial intelligence will make them genuinely useful all day, every day. All we need to do is let them manage every aspect of our personal and professional lives.
One of the more useful features of today’s assistants is their ability to save time, such as the “traffic is light. If you leave now it’ll take ten minutes to get to X” alerts that enable us to evade congestion without arriving too early.
Intelligent apps such as Ready take that a step further by predicting the future. By combining historical traffic and weather data, data about public events, roadworks and other issues into account it can predict how long a trip will take in the coming days or even weeks. And it learns your personal travelling habits, so its predictions get even more accurate the more you use it.
Ready’s a good example of where we’re heading. It automatically pulls events — meetings, dates, gigs — from your email and calendar, uses a bunch of different data sources to predict the future and hooks into the likes of Uber, TripAdvisor, Eat and Booking.com to find accommodation and somewhere to eat.
Mezi is thinking along similar lines. It’s another travel app, this time designed mainly for corporate use for multiple users, and it uses AI-powered chatbots to automate more than 60% of the admin involved in travelling such as finding and booking flights, hotels and restaurants in the most efficient and cost-effective way.
You can see the potential for smartphone AI: “Hey Siri, I need to travel to New York next week. Can you find me a cheap flight that isn’t too early and an AirBnb reasonably near Central Park?”
Scheduling isn’t just about travelling, of course. In a typical working environment there are all kinds of things that need to be juggled. Agents such as Zoom take care not just of scheduling meetings and associated transport — it’s one of many AI apps designed to do that, because meetings are often massive time wasters — but also provide the most relevant information and documents from all your work apps and file sharing services just before the meeting. It claims to boost average productivity by 14% and save users an average of 25 hours per month.
Other apps such as Apollo focus on the documents, automatically summarising key documents and news articles to tell you what you need to know when you need to know it. Think Alexa’s news briefs, but for your day job.
Another bright idea is Carly, which offers US users automated phone calls: if you arranged to call Biff at 9.30am Tuesday, it’ll set up the call automatically 30 seconds beforehand. Presumably if you’ve nipped out for a vape or toilet break future iterations will send robots to come and get you.
The idea of bringing relevant information to you when you need it isn’t limited to corporate stuff, of course. The current crop of AI assistants will show you boarding passes at the airport, tickets at the cinema or sports venue and so on, while apps such as Cleo — which works with Alexa, Google Assistant and in Facebook Messenger — makes sure you don’t miss scheduled payments or bills.
Increasingly, digital assistants are learning what you like to do and customising your devices accordingly. For example, the AI assistant in Honor’s View 10 smartphone — the first smartphone with a dedicated AI chip called a Neural-Network Processing Unit, or NPU for short — has some clever touches such as learning what music you like to listen to when you’re travelling to particular places. When you’re en route to somewhere, the music you tend to play appears at the very top of the music app for instant playback.
There’s a downside to all of this, of course, and we don’t mean the rise of the robots: the more we hand over to our silicon sidekicks, the more stuffed we’ll be if they stop working or become compromised.
Maybe it’s worth honing your survival skills just in case, or at the very least knowing your way around without relying on your Maps app.
AI Week is brought to you in association with Honor.
Lead image credit: Kārlis Dambrāns, Wikimedia, CC BY 2.0