The next step for intelligent virtual assistants: It’s time to consolidate
By Nova Spivack, Bottlenose
Sep 1 2014
We’re unlikely to see one virtual assistant to rule them all. Rather, we’ll have a team of assistants, each aware of its strengths and weaknesses, collaborating, delegating and stratifying based on the task at hand.
When we talk about the future of artificial intelligence (AI), the discussion often focuses on the advancements and capabilities of the technology, or even the risks and opportunities inherent in the potential cultural implications. What we frequently overlook, however, is the future of AI as a business.
IBM Watson’s recent acquisition and deployment of Cognea signals an important shift in the AI and intelligent virtual assistant (IVA) market, and offers an indication of both of the potentials of AI as a business and the areas where the market still needs development.
The AI business is about to be transformed by consolidation. Consolidation carries real risks, but it is generally a sign of technological maturation. And it’s about time, as AI is no longer simply a side project, or an R&D euphemism. AI is finally center stage.
IBM, for all its investment in the Watson platform, was still missing, among other elements, the “personality” — a critical piece of the virtual assistant puzzle. IBM is betting big on Watson overall, to the tune of $1 billion, and is therefore addressing Watson’s weaknesses aggressively. Assembling the complete puzzle is a non-trivial technological challenge and I’m not at all surprised IBM snapped up Cognea.
One of the companies I advise, Next IT, has gone to great lengths to create IVA’s with fully-developed personas — ranging from SGT STAR for the U.S. Army to Aetna’s Ann. These IVAs have a tone, a personality, a sense of humor and a vernacular custom-suited to their use cases. But even those personalities required proficiency in other facets of the technology, such as an expertly developed domain model. If you chat with the above examples, you’ll see how the two pieces interact very differently.
Because intelligent virtual assistants are focused within a domain model, they benefit from a clearly defined knowledge base and are able to go much deeper and stay within those bounds, whereas general purpose assistants like Apple‘s Siri are often asked to deal with users’ wide-ranging and often disorganized goals.
This is yet another argument for consolidation — building and implementing a cross-domain view of the world is a challenge, very likely bigger than any single company or customer. We likely won’t have “one assistant to rule them all,” but rather a team of assistants, each aware of its strengths and weaknesses, always collaborating in the background, delegating and stratifying based on the task at hand.
Personality is just one example of a shortcoming being addressed. So-called “best of breed” capabilities are scattered all over, and right now the AI market has a lot of niches. Natural language processing is important; machine learning — both statistical and symbolic — is important; domain models and ontologies are important; reasoning is important. The list goes on.