Viv: A New Voice Assistant by the Makers of Siri

Elizabeth Dwoskin for The Washington Post on Viv, a voice assistant by Dag Kittlaus and Adam Cheyer, co-founders of Siri:

“Get me a pizza from Pizz’a Chicago near my office,” one of the engineers said into his smartphone. It was their first real test of Viv, the artificial-intelligence technology that the team had been quietly building for more than a year...

About 40 minutes later - and after a few hiccups when Viv confused the office address - a Pizz’a Chicago driver showed up with four made-to-order pizzas.

The engineers erupted in cheers as the pizzas arrived. They had ordered pizza, from start to finish, without placing a single phone call and without doing a Google search - without any typing at all, actually. Moreover, they did it without downloading an app from Domino’s or Grubhub.

Of course, a pizza is just a pizza. But for Silicon Valley, a seemingly small change in consumer behavior or design can mean a tectonic shift in the commercial order, with ripple effects across an entire economy.

Didn’t know Apple only bought Siri and didn’t hire the guys that made it. Makes me think that Apple bought and implemented Siri too early, so early that that the feature, while heavily advertised as a selling point of the iPhone 4S, was labelled as a beta. Also, consider that Siri wasn’t an in-house development, and that it wasn’t further developed with the direct guidance of its creators.

This paragraph in particular struck me a bit:

Powered by artificial intelligence and unprecedented volumes of data, they could become the portal through which billions of people connect to every service and business on the Internet. It’s a world in which you can order a taxi, make a restaurant reservation and buy movie tickets in one long unbroken conversation — no more typing, searching or even clicking.

There’s that word again: data. In an age where online publishing is monopolised by Facebook because of the unending thirst for data, and where large podcasters are now vying for a platform that allows data collection, it’s easy to look at the need for data in other areas of technology quite negatively. As I implied in my recent post about Siri, I think that user data, and a ton of it, is an absolutely necessity for voice assistants to work serviceably, which can’t be said for publishing (at least at first) nor podcasting.

I think Kittlaus and Cheyer, among others developing better voice assistants and services, will need to be much more transparent than the data-driven companies of today if they want to create a voice-driven platform for tomorrow.

Here’s a nice bit that speaks a lot as to why voice assistants are increasingly desirable:

Grubhub chief executive Matt Maloney said he rushed to sign up with Viv two years ago, impressed with the idea of allowing consumers to perform different activities without having to toggle between services. “No one has been able to say, ‘I want the movie ticket, and the bottle of wine, and some flowers on the side’ — all in one breath,” he said.

In other words, voice interactivity can transcend the silos that are apps (especially within Apple’s ecosystem) without breaking down the walls that (justifiably) keep them apart.