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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.

If anyone wants to reschedule later, Amy handles that in the same way.

Best of all, Amy does the heavy lifting when you need to reschedule. Let's say you decide to take a last-minute vacation. Just send an email to Amy and say: "Clear my schedule for next week." If you've got ten meetings scheduled, Amy will reach out to all ten people to reschedule and will update your calendar.

Amy works great, according to my own tests. The assistant reliably and consistently seems to "understand" communication about meetings, and takes appropriate action.

Amy represents the future of virtual assistants for two reasons. First, it's a specialist agent, doing one thing very well.

Second, Amy is believably human. Within the confines of email conversations on the subject of scheduling meetings, Amy passes the Turing test.

In the future, human customer service operators will be aided by artificial intelligence and A.I. will be helped by humans. The public will neither know nor care whether various assistants and agents are real or artificial intelligence.


Good virtual assistants look out for you. That's why Shae is a great example of the future of virtual assistants. Shae helps you get healthy by guiding and informing you about healthy living all day, every day.

Shae virtual assistant 
The Shae virtual health assistant from Personal Health 360 takes into account thousands of data points to provide highly personalized advice. Credit: Personal Health 360

The company behind Shae, Personal Health 360 (PH360), throws around some big numbers. It claims Shae uses some 500 algorithms fed by more than 10,000 data points to provide very specific help for users.

That's a lot of data, and it comes from unexpected places. For example, family history is taken into account, individual body type and environmental factors like the weather and pollen count. Much of the health data Shae uses comes from a personalized phenotype questionnaire that each user fills out.

Shae additionally accesses both your calendar and biometrics as detected from a monitoring device like the Apple Watch to figure out what your mood might be. When it detects signs of stress such as an elevated heart rate, the app pops up a dialog to ask you if you're feeling stressed.

Like Google Now, Shae takes the initiative to give you information, updates and advice, telling you what to eat, when to exercise and keeping tabs on changing health data, such as your body mass index (BMI), an estimate of body fat based on height and weight), lean muscle mass, weight and body measurements. Shae even helps you plan vacations based on your personal profile and circadian rhythm.


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