"It's hard to communicate how to communicate with an assistant," added Lebrun. "Those who use them every day use them for four or five requests that they know work. It is easier for vertical ones since they serve one purpose."
"Siri and the others are not really that generic," added Dror Oren, co-founder of Kasisto. "Siri is good for productivity tasks, travel and entertainment, but if you move away from that it defaults to a Web search. The challenge is that they create the expectation that they are generic."
Expectations are a major issue, agreed Lebrun. "The first time people use one they ask something simple, like what is the weather tomorrow. Then they ask a more complex question about travel. Then they ask it to organize a wedding, and that's not possible," he said.
They also agreed that privacy is a limitation -- people do not want to walk down the street talking to a machine about their personal business, so they limit use to cars and offices. Beyond that, "If you want the assistant to be proactive it has to know many things about your life; do you want to share that with software?"
For financial applications, the banks are particular about what voices are used because the choice makes a statement about that bank. "Not having a custom voice is also a statement about the bank," noted Oren.
SXSW Interactive continues through Tuesday, followed by SXSW events related to music and cinema.
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