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These three virtual assistants point the way to the future

Mike Elgan | June 9, 2016
Siri, Google Now, Cortana, Alexa -- yawn! We look at three new virtual assistants that raise the bar for usefulness, interactivity and personalization.

We all need a little help sometimes. After all, what are cloud-based, artificially intelligent software agents for?

By now we're all familiar with the usual suspects: Siri, Google Now, Cortana and Alexa. They introduced most of us to the idea of talking to, rather than via, a phone, computer or home appliance.

But let's face it: These virtual assistants have become boring, banal commodities. Sorry, Siri: Your jokes are stale and your evolution slow.

More than anything else, Siri, Google Now, Cortana and Alexa have left us wanting agents that can understand and interact with us better, independently take action in the real world for us -- and even change our lives.

Get ready to upgrade: A new crop of virtual assistants is on the way, led by Amy, Shae and Otto. Each in its own way represents the future of virtual assistants. One is in public beta, one is in private beta and one is a hardware prototype, but they're coming soon, and they collectively reveal how much better virtual assistants can be.

Amy

Amy does one thing really well: scheduling your meetings.

Amy is the creation of a New York startup called x.ai. Right now there's a waiting list. But once you reach the top of the list and start using it, here's how Amy works.

(You can choose to call your assistant Amy or Andrew, but most people call it Amy and that's what I'll call it for this piece.)

Amy virtual assistant
If you didn't know x.ai's Amy was a virtual assistant, you'd probably assume she was human. Credit: x.ai

For now, Amy lives on the other side of an email address: amy@x.ai. (CEO Dennis Mortensen told me that the company intends to put Amy on other platforms, such as Slack and other group-chat apps, Amazon Echo and more, and that the platform shouldn't matter.)

You simply cc: Amy's email address on your communication about the scheduling of any meeting, and Amy takes over. Amy is "invisible software" -- there's no app to install, no website to interact with.

Amy is adept with natural language processing, which means you can use everyday language. For example, you might send an email to a colleague, copying Amy, and say: "Hey, let's get together next week" or "Grab a bite next week?" or "We should connect." Amy will then take action, introduce herself to the other person and, based on your calendar and preferences, will suggest a time to meet.

Amy is interactive. If the person you want to meet with gets back to Amy with restrictions or additional suggestions, Amy handles all the back-and-forth that often attends the hunt for a mutually agreeable meeting time. If you want to know how it's all going, you can send an email to Amy and ask how the meeting with so-and-so is going and Amy will reply with the current status.

 

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