The Not So Fab 4 Quite Yet of AI Digital Personal Assistants

AI (Artificial Intelligence) holds much promise for the future in automating many parts of our lives and integrating our own personal data with what’s relevant to us on the worldwide web. Step forward the Big 4 market leaders in this field, all vying for a foothold in this market.

Amazon Alexa, Microsoft Cortana, Google Home and Apple Siri are all devices that most people have heard something about. They are being positioned as virtual assistants. The technology ranges from devices that sit on office desktops and home table tops to apps that sit inside our phones and computers. Each will also require its user to be subscribed to an account, in order that it can personalise data to what it thinks your needs are.

While each will naturally try to dominate and monopolise the market, this is an area so complex, that they may eventually have to capitulate and draw on each other for support, depending on their own particular brand’s strengths and weaknesses. This sounds reminiscent of the VHS versus Betamax wars of the 1980’s or Apple versus Microsoft in the 1990’s.

Presently, each proprietary technology is biased to recommending its own products and services. One review even called Cortana a Bing shortcut. (Bing is Microsoft’s search engine). This article compares the state of affairs between the current main players:

http://uk.businessinsider.com/siri-vs-google-assistant-cortana-alexa-2016-11?fbclid=IwAR2N9TY_Sy-E-iFT4czcEzKSqQdpisA0RAJ53DbGrgYXKITiPiQGyKRw464

There is some hope of integration on the horizon, though. Amazon seems to be collaborating with Microsoft:

https://www.cnbc.com/2018/08/15/amazon-and-microsoft-launch-alexa-and-cortana-integration-.html

Also, because Brightspace is hosted on Amazon web servers, there is scope for hope that this will ease natural integration with Alexa at some future point.

However, the rivalry between Amazon and Google is still alive and kicking:

https://techcrunch.com/2018/01/31/oops-dont-say-google-in-your-alexa-voice-app-amazon-says/

Each device has a speech and text interface and uses a combination of AI, learning algorithms and knowledge bases. As previously stated, each prefers to recommend its own product first, regardless of suitability.

The Nirvana would be if each device could also interrogate its rival for data if their results were more relevant, or, even a whole host of other apps and bots that sit on the web, each specialising in a particular knowledge domain. Clearly, the technology already exists to search our personal data, as well as the public domain, on the web. This offers the promise of a more intelligent solution.

What if, for example, you could ask it to turn a variety of difference information sources into a Harvard reference list, or perform an initial literature search or evaluate the quality of various references?

Each device offers certain apps, or skills, that are constantly being added to by third party developers. For example, there may be a skill on shopping, weather, cooking or whatever else you can imagine.

But what does it mean to education, you may well ask? Imagine if you could ask for help using Brightspace, Turnitin, or Panopto? Perhaps a student wants to know when their assignment due date is? This may also involve the co-operation of these vendors at the other end to allow access. Would Brightspace develop an AI app, or open up their frameworks to the mass market for interrogation? This is all uncharted territory and currently raises more questions than answers.

If you have experience with any of these devices, positive or negative, please post in the comments below. It would be good to look at each device in detail, but this would be better from the perspective of an experienced user. The article referred to earlier, demonstrates some comparisons that were performed. Perhaps seeing if things have improved or got worse would be a good start?

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