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We need virtual assistants that talk to each other

Mike Elgan | June 12, 2017
'Siri, Google Assistant, Cortana and Alexa — figure out a solution and get back to me.'

One of those devices is a virtual assistant appliance called Essential Home, which Rubin says should run Siri, Alexa, Google's Assistant or any virtual assistant customers want to use. The virtual assistant appliance is for consumers, but the concept could be applied to businesses as well. The model is: We build the virtual assistant appliance hardware, but you (the customer) figure out which virtual assistant to put on it.

Based on what Rubin has said, he has no solution to the problem of getting virtual assistants to work with each other, only to get existing virtual assistants to work with his own Home device. He's offering choice, but the actual decision is left to the user.

 

The bring-your-own-assistant option

Dennis Mortensen is the CEO and founder of x.ai, which makes a virtual assistant that schedules meetings via email.

Mortensen envisions the coming age of BYOA — Bring Your Own Assistant. In his model, the value of each employee or executive in the future will be not only based on their skills, experience and knowledge, but also on the quality of the virtual assistants they use and their skill in using them.

In other words, virtual assistants used in business will not be developed or mandated by the company, but chosen by the employee and carried from one job to the next. This vision is almost certainly accurate, although I would also imagine that companies will deploy and even build their own assistants to add to those chosen and used by employees.

Mortensen also doesn't address the core problem: How do you choose which assistant to use, or decide which module, plug-in or "skill" is best?

 

The choose-it-for-me option

It's clear that the major tech companies -- Apple, Google, Microsoft, Amazon, Samsung and others -- are working on general purpose virtual assistant services and that their strategy is to open their platforms to third-party add-ons. It's equally clear that if each add-on has to be discovered and conjured up individually, this entire approach is dead in the water.

Even smartphone apps, which hold the advantage of reminding the user with an icon and providing visual interface reminders, are far too difficult to discover and remember to use. The virtual assistant equivalent of apps -- plug-ins or add-ons that are invisible and require memorization (command-line interfaces) -- simply won't be used. And as a result, the incentive to even create them in the first place won't exist.

The obvious solution is for the general-purpose virtual assistant to select the app for the user.

Right now, virtual assistants make decisions about which source of information to use. For example, when you ask for the weather, it won't check your calendar. It will recognize the category of query and reach out to whatever weather service the assistant is hard-wired to use.

 

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