In 2011, Siri became available to the public, deeply integrated inside iOS on the new iPhone 4S. It kindled thousands of discussions about the inception of a ‘personal voice assistant’.
Siri wasn’t made by Apple: in fact, Apple bought SIRI (Speech Interpretation and Recognition Interface) from Siri, Inc. which was a spin-off from SRI International Artificial Intelligence Centre (SRI stands for Stanford Research Institute). Siri was co-founded by SRI's Dag Kittlaus (CEO) and Adam Cheyer (VP Engineering) and by Tom Gruber (CTO). The personal voice assistant was first released on the iOS App Store, and Siri for Android and Blackberry was under development too. However, Apple’s acquisition took Siri on a new path- making it a part of iOS, cancelling the Android and Blackberry apps and making it less compatible with third-parties.
Coming back to today’s world, we recognise Siri as a voice assistant that does most of the simple things right, but stumbles at any complex task. While Siri has gained hundreds of features over the years and has become a significant part of devices like the Apple Watch and Apple TV, it hasn’t grown to become a strong competitor. This can be subjected to Apple’s closed ecosystem, as well as limited third-party integration in Siri.
The original makers of Siri had a much wider vision for an AI voice assistant. Dag Kittlaus stepped out of Apple, and developed yet another personal assistant along with Adam Cheyer and Tom Gruber. They debuted it at TechCrunch’s Disrupt NYC 2016, and they call it Viv.
Viv is a reincarnation of Siri - a Siri that is far more powerful than its original. Viv is powered by some of the best natural language processing and AI, and can do an amazing job at interpreting both simple and complex queries. Not just that, Viv uses Artificial Intelligence to code the process of response - it dynamically writes a computer program to handle any given query and uses third party APIs to process the response.
Sounds crazy, eh? It is.
When we talk to a personal assistant like Siri, we expect it to process information the way a human does. While it is true that Siri uses artificial intelligence, it cannot ‘understand’ certain complex queries if they didn’t already exist in Siri’s database. Viv is different: it breaks down each part of the query, and then writes code to solve each portion.
Dag calls Viv "a global brain.” The AI assistant works with multiple third-party APIs to solve any given query. This is a first in the industry, in fact: neither Google Now nor Siri can work with two (or more) third-party services at a time. What Viv does in its dynamically written computer program is that it associates every part of the query to access certain third-party service. It then brings all the answers together to solve the original query. Viv also makes sure the answer is aesthetically pleasing. When it is a weather query, it brings up an interactive panel with the required information. If you book an Uber, the reply will consist of a map with the car that has been booked.
Let us take an example to further understand Viv. Say you can query Viv “Book me an Uber for my family to a Mexican restaurant that is rated better than four stars”. Viv will approach this by breaking the query down… It will find you a Mexican restaurant with the filter ‘rated better than 4 start’ and using your current location using OpenTable. Then it will refer to your personal information - you have 5 members in your family. Bringing all this information together, it will book an Uber SUV (to seat 5 members) with the destination as the Mexican restaurant. All this happens through a computer program that Viv generates, and the results appear in seconds! Moreover, this will work flawlessly even of you don’t have the OpenTable and Uber apps. (I have included an infographic with another such example below the article!)
The fact is, Viv is making a really complex task simple. Imagine the amount of time you would use to solve the same query manually: downloading the apps and setting them up, then finding a restaurant on Open Table, copying the address, then opening the Uber app, choosing Uber SUV, pasting the destination and finally hitting book. As Viv expands its third-party support, it will become fluent at answering practically any query. Be it finding information, purchasing something online or using a service, Viv will be able to handle it. That way, it can replace every app on your phone while still keeping all your information and services a query away.
Viv is still under development and is limited to a few third-parties. However, it is expected to arrive in 2017 with developers getting their hands on it. I can’t wait to experience Viv, and I’ll make sure to put down an article on Technonerds when it is out.
So that is the story of Viv - the next big step in the AI revolution.
Watch the presentation about Viv by Dag Kittlaus at TechCrunch's Disrupt NYC 2016 here.
Source: Wired, YouTube/TechCrunch
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(The below illustration is made for Wired by La Tigre, and is yet another example of how Viv approaches a query. Click to view full size image.)