When Apple unveiled Siri, its intelligent digital assistant, people were wowed by what it could do. You could ask ‘her’ to set the alarm or call someone or tell you where to go and was able to deflect metaphysical questions with humor.
But how soon we become jaded. It was not long before people chafed at some of its limitations and realized that they wanted more. As Steven Levy writes:
Over the next few months, however, Siri’s limitations became apparent. Ask her to book a plane trip and she would point to travel websites—but she wouldn’t give flight options, let alone secure you a seat. Ask her to buy a copy of Lee Child’s new book and she would draw a blank, despite the fact that Apple sells it. Though Apple has since extended Siri’s powers—to make an OpenTable restaurant reservation, for example—she still can’t do something as simple as booking a table on the next available night in your schedule. She knows how to check your calendar and she knows how to use OpenTable. But putting those things together is, at the moment, beyond her.
Levy writes that a team of software engineers some of whom were part of the original Siri creation team are working to produce a much more advanced system called Viv that will be able to do a lot more.
Now a small team of engineers at a stealth startup called Viv Labs claims to be on the verge of realizing an advanced form of AI that removes those limitations. Whereas Siri can only perform tasks that Apple engineers explicitly implement, this new program, they say, will be able to teach itself, giving it almost limitless capabilities. In time, they assert, their creation will be able to use your personal preferences and a near-infinite web of connections to answer almost any query and perform almost any function.
The way they seek to solve the problem is by creating a system that writes its own code to solve problems.
Viv breaks through those constraints by generating its own code on the fly, no programmers required. Take a complicated command like “Give me a flight to Dallas with a seat that Shaq could fit in.” Viv will parse the sentence and then it will perform its best trick: automatically generating a quick, efficient program to link third-party sources of information together—say, Kayak, SeatGuru, and the NBA media guide—so it can identify available flights with lots of legroom. And it can do all of this in a fraction of a second.
I am usually several steps behind the latest technology. I don’t even have Siri because I still have an iPhone3 that was a hand-me-down from my daughter. So I am easily impressed by these kinds of stories.
(Via Machines Like Us.)