Last week Microsoft unveiled its virtual assistant, Cortana (yes, after the Halo character), in the style of Apple’s Siri and Google Now. MIT Technology Review has a nice writeup about it.
Sadly, Cortana only looks like this inside Halo
I watched friends chat with Siri when she first appeared, but most of their interactions were playful, such as trying out questions to provoke amusing responses. I don’t know if they continue to find Siri useful and part of daily life. In my case, as an Android gal, I started using Google Now with voice commands a couple months ago but I find myself forgetting about it. I’m accustomed to using text and switching to voice requires a change of mindset. When I’ve used it, however, it’s been fantastic. Once I retrain myself, I think it will be very helpful. Trendblog put together a handy infographic of the Google Now voice commands, including some Easter eggs, that they just updated for 2014.
Where virtual assistants are most powerful is in the uncomfortable grey zone of possible privacy invasion. Last Wednesday I bought tickets online for a showing of Captain America: The Winter Soldier. I got a confirmation of the purchase on my Gmail account. The following night, I got a notification on my phone that I should leave the house in four minutes to arrive at the theatre on time. My reaction was pleasant surprise with an undertone of discomfort. It was a very useful notification, but as I hadn’t added the movie to my calendar or set a reminder, it also emphasized the point that Google parses my mail and knows where I am on the map.
I think that the current generation of virtual assistants is a point on the trajectory of constructed assistants, which will extend into robotics and perhaps someday to something like the holographic agent S.A.M. which acted as the interface for a smart home in the “Disrupt” episode of Almost Human. Speaking of which, there is no news yet whether Almost Human is being renewed, but I have my fingers and toes crossed. The first season had some remarkably fresh and exciting thinking about futurism, technology, and humanity. If you didn’t watch, some video is available on the Fox site, including the full “Disrupt” episode.
The detectives and captain question the holographic S.A.M.