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When artificial intelligence is everywhere, all the time

Mike Elgan | Sept. 22, 2015
Siri and virtual assistants like her will soon change everything. I. Mean. Everything.

Imagine, for example, Siri with, say, 25% better speech recognition, 25% faster processing of the request, 25% brainier A.I., 25% more data and so on. This is what will actually happen in a few months, and the improvements will keep coming indefinitely.

As a result, virtual assistants are moving rapidly from a gimmick that hardly anyone uses to, in a year or two, the main interface people use for anything connected to a computer.

That's the reason virtual assistant technology is the best interface for both the Amazon Fire TV and Apple's upcoming version of the Apple TV.

There are also powerful new apps on the horizon, such as Hound.

Virtual assistants will be added to an increasing variety of other apps, such as the M feature of Facebook Messenger.

Virtual assistant appliances like the Amazon Echo will start emerging in greater number.

These implementations are just the beginning. Soon, a vast array of products will have powerful virtual assistants as the main interface.

And the next place where A.I. shows up is in a dollhouse.

I'm dreaming of an A.I. Christmas

Mattel is set to release in two months a version of Barbie that enables children to speak through the doll to a vast and sophisticated artificial intelligence engine.

The $74.99 Hello Barbie doll has a battery in each leg and a mini-USB charging port on her lower back. Her necklace contains a microphone and her belt buckle contains a button that, when pressed, activates the microphone. Inside Hello Barbie's torso is a mini computer and Wi-Fi antenna.

When a child talks to Hello Barbie, the doll acts like an iPhone, recording, compressing and transmitting the sound file to a remote server (which is housed in a data center owned by a company called ToyTalk). The speech is analyzed, a response selected, then the instruction to say that response in Hello Barbie's voice is transmitted over the Internet, the home's Wi-Fi and to the doll.

Hello Barbie is like Siri, except the voice is Barbie's, and the responses were all written by Mattel.

When news about Hello Barbie first emerged, the public was shocked. Alarmist headlines talked about a "creepy" and "eavesdropping" presence in children's lives. Think of the children!

In reality, this is the interface today's children will never, ever be without.

And kids don't need Barbie to introduce them to A.I. virtual assistants and chatbots. Mom and Dad's phones have voice-interaction Siri, Google Now, Cortana or something else. The TV has or will soon have voice-interaction A.I. The family car will have it (as Apple's CarPlay and Google's Android Auto take over or lead the market for how people interact with their cars' dashboards). The family PC has it in the browser, or as a fundamental aspect of the operating system. The game console probably has it, too.


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