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June 1, 2016

Intelligent & Context-Aware: A.I. Grows Up

Posted by Sanjay Nambiar (View Profile | View All Posts) at 8:27 AM

A Battle Of Digital Assistants | Tech Bet | CNBC [Source: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HLXIDdBsNiQ]

As every major technology company rolls out a new 'chat bot' or virtual assistant (Siri, Echo, and Alexa immediately come to mind), it's becoming clear to consumers that comparing them is akin to comparing apples with oranges. There are those devices or apps that you can talk at, and they respond with basic answers because they've been programmed with reams of data and can access even more. So if you're looking for a new restaurant in your neighborhood, just about any such product on the market will suffice.

But there's a relatively new term being used today that's separating the Artificial Intelligence-enabled apples from the oranges: 'conversational interface.' That's when you begin talking to your device instead of at it. Rather than simply drawing on its vast data banks, it can actually learn from your questions and conversations and teach itself to become a better digital assistant. After all, we've had Internet search engines for two decades now. Simply making them blurt out answers to your search is not that radical. Understanding who you are and what you're wanting to, however, is changing the marketplace for everything related to A.I.

One example is Viv, an A.I. platform that appears to be re-writing the rules of how digital interfaces work. It can seamlessly integrate with third-party services and is able to understand conversational language. During Viv's live demonstration last month, its creator Dag Kittlaus asked Viv to pay US$ 20 to a friend, and Viv did just that using the app Venmo, which allows one to make and share payments with friends. No longer are some companies jealously guarding their A.I. platforms; they're opening them up so that anyone can use them and improve upon them. The more this happens, the more interconnected devices will become and their A.I. standard will become a global standard. There's also SoundHound, for example, which recently unveiled Hound, a virtual assistant that also works with apps.

One area where A.I. will truly make a difference is in the field of education. A.I could facilitate one-on-one tutoring for children, often touted to be the most effective method of education. In fact, academics at University College London's Knowledge Lab have written in a popular report that A.I. has the potential to mimic a human when it comes to one-on-one tutoring. Plus, the report states, teachers can use feedback from those A.I./student interactions to develop more accurate assessments of students' talents and skills. Simply put, suppose a mathematically-inclined student is identified at an early age by an A.I.-enabled interface. That means the school can develop a more robust mathematics curriculum for that student. All students will theoretically receive more personalized curricula.

It's clear that Artificial Intelligence has the potential to change the way we live and learn and work. A professor of computer science at Georgia Tech, Ashok Goel, wanted to prove a point about Artificial Intelligence. He wondered: What if he used an A.I.-enabled computer to stand in as a teaching assistant in an online course? Would his students notice? It turns out that many students never caught on to 'Jill,' his teaching assistant that was actually an A.I.-enabled computer. Professor Goel said that the computer would only answer a question if it had a confidence rate of at least 97 percent. That's much higher than the chat bots we experience when we call into a customer service center. But it's also a sign of things to come. A.I.-empowered computers are getting smarter and acting more like us.

Viv is indeed a breakthrough when it comes to virtual agents and conversational commerce. Gone are the days when chat bots on a website responded to your query from a list of pre-loaded messages. Viv's creators tout the fact that it can write its own code as it learns from its surroundings. That's a giant leap as far as consumer-based A.I. is concerned. There are several other A.I.-enabled platforms that are shaking up the market. I came across a report that Google's Allo will be able to learn from its users so that if it is asked the best way to roast a chicken, it will realize that its user is cooking a meal and therefore suggest dishes (and their recipes) that complement the roasted chicken. What the marketplace is experiencing is that A.I. is pivoting towards ubiquity. I've often heard it said that we don't think about electricity unless there's a black-out. Someday, A.I. will teach itself to become so smart that consumers won't have to ask a device 10 questions just to get the answer they need.

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