If you’ve ever watched Iron Man, I, Robot or even Terminator, you’ll have heard about AI. You’ll probably have heard about AI even if you haven’t seen them.
So it makes sense that all the top tech companies are looking into AI. Everyone from Facebook, Apple, Microsoft, Google and even Amazon have jumped on the hype – looking to extend their AI and AI-based tech into consumer hands. Their motives may vary, but they’re all experimenting with it nonetheless.
But what exactly are these efforts, and how do they compare next to each other? I was compiling a huge load of research for a blog post that I wrote over on the Tamar blog, about how personal assistants will affect the future of SEO. But I also wanted to compile that research on here, just in case I wanted to refer back to it later. Hopefully it’s interesting to you too!
Facebook’s M was the first AI-type deal that I saw that really excited me. I don’t like Facebook, and I hardly ever use it. But when I saw it – and what it could do (order an army of parrots, anyone?) I got excited. This is something that could really truly revolutionise my life.
Facebook M is part-AI, part-person, and built into the Facebook Messenger app. M can respond to pretty much any request, and over the months I’ve been reading stories about it (sadly, I’m not lucky enough to be able to try it out) M has been able to send GIFs, draw personalised pictures, write songs, save money on bills and even, as I mentioned before, order a small army of parrots to an office.
I’m notoriously lazy, so it makes sense that I would love it – in the same way I love Apple Pay. Businesses make money off of us being lazy, and if Facebook M is as amazing as it seems, Facebook will make a fortune. Again. After all, as Alex Kantrowitz pointed out;
‘Who wouldn’t want an ever-present assistant around to help them out throughout the day?’
Facebook’s motives have become clearer since F8 – they want us all to us Messenger. They want Messenger to replace, well, everything. But they need a small army of bots to help accomplish this task. But think about it, if you can go to Messenger in order to shop, organise, buy etc etc, why would you need to go anywhere else?
And it makes sense. They can never hope to beat Google in a direct competition when it comes to search – so how do they work around this?
Easy. They cut Google out, like a cancerous rot (sorry Google, I love you really!)
If M can do the searching for you, there’s no need for Google. Smart ey?
Mark Zuckerberg’s JARVIS
Outside of Facebook Proper, there’s also Mark Zuckerberg’s personal project. Zuckerberg is famous for setting himself crazy goals each year – whether it’s learning Mandarin or reading two books each month. This year, it seemed, was no exception.
In a Facebook post on the third of January, Zuckerberg announced that he wanted to take on a personal challenge to build an AI to run his home.
My personal challenge for 2016 is to build a simple AI to run my home and help me with my work. You can think of it kind of like Jarvis in Iron Man.
Of course, the nerd in me squealed when he mentioned JARVIS. Who hasn’t watched Iron Man and hoped that they could one day have their own AI butler, who’s indelibly polite, but also a little bit sarcastic? This, for me, was the best example of AI I have come across when researching – but that’s probably because it’s hypothetical.
The other AIs listed are more chat bots than anything else, and at the end of the day, they are limited to a single device.
JARVIS – although purely fictional – seemed to be able to run the whole house and, with the Internet of Things ever expanding – he (it?) seems like the conclusion, or ultimately the pinnacle, of all Things Internet.
By all accounts, Apple’s Siri is lagging far behind. I don’t know anyone that actively uses it, beyond triggering the shit jokes it has.
Ha ha, well played Apple. Top bants.
No but seriously, it’s pretty bad. She (or he, depending on where you live) pales in comparison to what else is on the market. Apple did acquire an AI startup earlier this year, however, so that seems to point to the fact that they’re recognising their failings and, hopefully, gearing up to release either Siri 2.0 or something else, a little more superpowered.
Microsoft have taken their AI ambitions to the nth degree. Their Build2016 conference was purely aimed at the use of personal assistants and bots, with the majority of it resting on Cortana, their Intelligent Personal Assistant. Satya Nadella, the CEO of Microsoft was quoted as saying;
“People to people. People to your personal digital assistant. People to bots. Even people to your personal assistant calling on your bots on your behalf, that’s the world you are going to see in years to come.”
It seems Microsoft are keen to use language, rather than clicks and typing, for their next gen of tech. One of their slides from the event boldly stated that ‘Human language is the new UI’
However, their attempt at using AI has been plagued by mishaps. Just days before their Build2016 conference, Microsoft proudly unveiled Tay – an experimental AI-powered chatbot that was designed to be able to “speak like millennials” (*shudder*).
Looking back at it now, it’s obvious that this was supposed to be the crown jewel of their AI efforts at Build2016. It would have been amazing for them to say ‘Look at this bot. Look how good it is. We can bring that into your home.’
Unfortunately, it was not to be. Within a couple of hours, Tay had become a racist, anti-semitic Trump supporter – which was a shame. But, to be honest, anyone could have seen that coming. Twitter has a reputation for being full of trolls, so much so that Twitter constantly have to vow to crack down on trolls more, so it made sense that they would find a way to turn this AI into a monster.
Thanks a lot for creating the new Skynet, Twitter Trolls.
But Microsoft’s reasoning, much like Facebook’s, is pretty clear. They can never hope to beat Google. Bing is shit, we all know it. Internet Explorer is so bad that it’s the laughing stock of the internet, no matter how much they try and rebrand it.
So like Facebook, they’re hoping to cut the Big G out altogether. Again, it’s a smart move.
Google’s unnamed project
According to a report that was published back in December of 2015 in The Wall Street Journal, Google is working on an AI-powered chat assistant. And if Google’s looking into it, you know it’s going to have huge ramifications for search.
Sadly very little is known about Google’s project and probably will continue to be until they announce it at Google I/O in June. What is known, however, is that they need to act fast to maintain their position at the top of the Internet Food Chain.
The Amazon Echo is probably the best of the current personal assistants, far beyond anything else around on the market at the minute. The Echo is part-personal assistant, part-Bluetooth speaker. You control it with your voice, which it can detect up to 15-20 feet away.
Technically, the Echo is the speaker. The personal assistant is Alexa, which is housed in the speaker. Alexa can play music, getting the weather, creating shopping or to-do lists, setting alarms and timers, reading the news, reading out recipes, convert units, define words and even come up with general trivia.
However, these are all quite basic functions, as far as AI-powered functions go. Alexa seems very similar to Siri, and the functions offered by the other assistants are all theoretical, or not able to be scaled up just yet.
Sure, Facebook M outperforms it at the minute, but M is still in the testing stages. I don’t see how Facebook will be able to scale up their drawings, or ordering parrots across the globe.
However, Echo does remind me of JARVIS, the home assistant that I so desperately want. I think that with a bit more integration with some IoT products and Alexa/Echo could be the best thing on the market.
The future’s bright
So what does the future look like? Well, I already wrote about how these AIs and personal assistants will affect search, and they will – in a big way.
But what do they mean for every day consumers? The same things tech always means. Ease of use and convenience – as well as a nice simple way to spend money on things you don’t necessarily need (see again – army of parrots)
Whatever the future is, I can’t wait. I just hope the Rise of the Machines is not in my lifetime. I don’t think I’d do well in a robot-human war.