Elise Ackerman of Forbes recently discussed the present state and foreseeable future of virtual assistants. She begins, “Apple has been working hard to convince us that a glamorous future full of witty personal assistants is attainable for the price of an iPhone. In recent ads, Siri, the personal assistant that debuted with the iPhone 4s, has discussed the philosophy of life with actor John Malkovich and bantered with director Martin Scorsese while helping him rearrange his schedule. The ad campaign is meant to counter criticisms that Siri is sluggish and slow. Siri’s not working as promised, but not for the reasons most people think. They assume that the technology exists, but that Apple released Siri too early. They want to see an upgrade, not more advertisements. But the next version of Siri is not going to be dramatically better. The fact is that artificial intelligence has not advanced to match the imagination of Apple’s marketing team.”

Ackerman goes on, “What’s technologically possible isn’t Siri, a companion to celebrities, but Nina, her pedestrian sister who spends all day in a call center answering questions about credit card charges and bank balances. Nina’s not nearly as exciting as Siri, but it’s what we should expect of personal assistants for the foreseeable future. Nina, which was released by Nuance Communications a week ago, is powered by the same set of technologies as Siri—voice recognition, natural language processing, semantic analysis, text to speech, dialogue management and more. In fact, Nuance’s proprietary technologies were used in early versions of Siri, and it’s not clear whether Apple has since replaced some or all those technologies. The two companies will not discuss their current relationship.”

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Image: Courtesy Nuance