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Why Google A.I. is the last user interface

Mike Elgan | Oct. 10, 2016
There's no question that A.I. is the next UI. The question is: Whose A.I.?

Today, Amazon's Alexa is far ahead of other virtual assistants in the integration of third-party apps or bots -- or "skills," as Amazon calls them. Alexa now has more than 3,000 "skills," according to Amazon.

While "skills" are great, Amazon's system doesn't work for mass adoption. "Skills" have to be discovered and installed using the Alexa phone app. Memorization is required by the user to call up a skill. This works well for a tiny number of skills. But once that number exceeds a dozen or two, most people will likely forget which "skills" they've installed, as well as the words that launch them.

Because Assistant uses A.I., it should understand the result you want, then often choose -- or at least offer -- third-party integrations for you. Google hasn't announced this feature, and the company was unwilling to comment on it when I reached out to them. But I think the success of Assistant will depend on it.

A.I.-selected third-party bots enable you to use thousands of bots, not just a few. You won't have to memorize anything. Just talk to Assistant like you would a person, and Assistant's A.I. should figure it out and make decisions about how to respond.

I think it's clear that, despite coming from behind, Google's Assistant will gain far more and better support than Amazon's Alexa, in part because Google's hardware, software and online reach is far wider. Assistant will be everywhere.

Why Home is so important

A.I. virtual assistant apps and bots are free and easy. But when consumers buy a virtual assistant appliance like the Amazon Echo or Google Home, they're essentially expressing their brand preference, and that preference is likely to stick.

That's why lots of companies will ship such devices.

Samsung this week announced that it would acquire a startup called Viv Labs, which was founded by three members of the Siri team when Apple bought Siri in 2010.

Viv is a Siri-like virtual assistant, but with multifaceted agency, meaning that it can combine services. You should be able to say things like "I'd like to go to a good Italian restaurant." In response to that simple, natural language phrase, Viv could take note of your location, use a service that ranks restaurants, make a reservation at the nearest good one and call you an Uber. In other words, like Google's plans for Assistant, Viv can use A.I. to choose the third-party integration that makes sense.

Viv is the closest thing we have to Google's Assistant. Samsung unveiled an Amazon Echo-like virtual assistant appliance in April called Otto. I think Samsung will ship Otto, and it should be powered by Viv -- as should Samsung phones, TVs and other products.


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