Hi there, can I help? Not yet, thanks!

Blog: Technology

— Marta Guasch 

In less than five years we’ve met Cortana, Google Now, Siri, Echo and many other intelligent personal assistants. Similar to the browser wars of the 90s, technology companies race now to develop the dominant ´virtual assistant.’ In fact, tech giants don’t seem to be satisfied enough by having their own voice-activated virtual assistant built into their mobile software and software giants have recently started to make the move to bring their own technology to third party mobile platforms. Early this year, Google opened the API for its Google Now services to third-party apps, and most recently, Microsoft stepped up to the plate bringing Cortana to third-party mobile platforms.

But are we ready to hand too much control of our lives to an artificial brain?

Probably not (yet).

Intelligent personal assistants will definitely be the key to determining the future of mobile devices, wearables and the Internet of Things. While tech manufacturers predict that in the near future, this technology will become efficient enough to simplify our daily tasks, the reality is that there are still quite a few challenges to overcome. As it happens, earlier this week, we found out that if you ask Siri about 9/11 terrorist attacks in Canada, it will dial the police.

So, what do you use your personal virtual assistant for?

A recent research by Goldsmiths found that more than 60% of people they surveyed would be interested in having a virtual assistant but they are keen for the technology to evolve and want virtual help to be accessible across more devices, and used more deeply than just responding to voice commands.

That said, thus far you’ve probably only tried to test out your personal assistance’s sense of humour by asking fun and non-relevant questions. And yes, unfortunately, this is what this technology seems to be released for at the moment.

If you say ‘Okay, Google’ to Siri, or ask a random question to any virtual assistant, they come programmed with a bunch of responses both silly and earnest, which validates how Marcus Ash, group program manager for Cortana, described virtual assistants by saying that ‘at the moment, it´s progressive intelligence, not autonomous intelligence.’

It seems a bit premature to start worrying about a time when intelligent personal assistants will suddenly take over the decisions that litter our everyday lives as they anticipate users’ needs, when at the moment, we can only use them for any other than fun purposes.

Digital assistants have still so much to learn and this is not an easy task. They rely on a number of artificial technologies, including speech recognition, predictive technology and voice interaction that will get smarter the more people use them.

I’d like to think that there will be a day when, in this new always-on-always-connected era, the idea of asking Cortana to turn the lights of your place on would feel very old-fashioned because we will take it for granted, but in the meantime, if Cortana asks me ‘Hi Marta, can I help?’, I will sadly respond ‘Not yet, thanks!’

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