Siri Is Only The Beginning

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Dag Kittlaus was co-founder and CEO at Siri, which was acquired by Apple in 2010.

For decades, Hollywood has been portraying machines that humans can converse with, delegate tasks to, and command. Remember the HAL 9000, KITT the car, COMPUTER from Star Trek, or even the brilliantly conceived and visualized Apple “Knowledge Navigator” from over 20 years ago? The day is dawning.

Hello Siri.

The response to Siri has exceeded even my own imagination … and I have a rather vast imagination. I don’t believe it’s an accident that Siri has captivated as it has. It’s fun, it works well for most, and makes complex interactions simple. And while I don’t know what Apple plans to do with Siri going forward, you can bet that it’s going to get better and do more. I’ll be the first one in line for the iPhone 5, 6, and 7 just to get the latest Siri. (Better yet, I’ll just ask Siri to send me the latest model as they become available.)

But these are the early days. I believe that when our kids are our age, they will ask us in amazement how we got along without having a virtual assistant to delegate the menial tasks of our life to, in the same way we can barely remember a world without the internet, Googling, and the laptop. As the state of the art progresses, you will see domain-specific competitors emerge across all kinds of verticals where conversational interactions make complex interactions simpler. Think banking, where a European bank is already aggressively investing in automated virtual tellers, e-commerce where evidence hints at Amazon starting to walk down the path of speech-based commerce. Don’t forget virtual travel agents, virtual customer service agents like VirtuOz, and ultimately Virtual medical assistants that will embody Vinod Khosla’s vision of Dr. Alogorithm. This world is coming, and coming soon. But why?

Because the AI Virtual Assistant is the interaction substrate of the digital future.

This is because it elegantly encapsulates the myriad of elements we want in applications and internet services such as personalization, simple interaction, contextual awareness, and integrated actions … all wrapped up in one simple conversation. For example, if we use a conversation snippet from an imaginary virtual travel assistant, you see how several aspects of services are joined:

“Dag, your flight is 2 hours, 30 minutes delayed. Can I find you  a hotel room in the area? Or can I check other flights to the same destination?

To do this seemingly simple task integrates an understanding of time, location, context, personalization, as well as integrating flight status, hotel booking and available flight services. If we continue in this domain we could imagine this follow-on response to the travel snippet:

“I have found a seat to Seattle on Friday, October 3 departing at 8:30am. I have requested an aisle seat and a frequent flyer upgrade as usual.“

Again, this snippet shows a knowledge of travel destination, seating preferences, frequent flyer features, and flight booking service in one elegant interaction. Doing exactly the same thing in today’s smartphone paradigm would entail some serious form filling, at least three or four different apps and far more time and clicks.

Imagine the magic that happens when your virtual assistant knows your preferences across many areas, your friends, your credit card, your address, music tastes, accounts, and lots of other information about you and dynamically applies these across whatever you need done across many available services and applications.

-“Send a check to PG&E for $89.47”

-“Let me know when Sting is playing nearby”

-“Buy the Steve Jobs biography and send it to my brother”

-“Set up an afternoon doctor’s appointment for late next week ”

-and on & on & on

It will be game over. You will not go back to yesterday’s way of doing things. When a platform emerges that integrates the web with conversation and understanding, the user paradigm will change forever and a kinder, gentler version of the HAL 9000 will emerge as the norm. One interesting question that remains unclear is whether the world will have one gigantic AI overseeing all of your needs, weaving together the various vertical domains into a single AI mosaic or whether we will have many assistants at our beck and call. As John Battelle elegantly put it, “the future of search isn’t search, it’s a conversation with someone we trust.” And while I’m not sure he was thinking of this specific example, it’s a wonderful way to sum up the coming age of AI Virtual Assistants.