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Beyond Siri, The Next-Generation AI Assistants Are Smarter Specialists

Stashed in: Awesome, Siri, Turing, Slack, Artificial Intelligence, Chatbots

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SRI built a "conversational scaffolding" that orgs can import their own domain knowledge into, for "specialist" chatbots.

Is banking the best application they could think of?

Now, SRI believes it can infuse AI into even more settings—shopping, banking, travel, business-to-business applications, and so on—allowing for deeply knowledgeable chatbots that know how to carry a conversation. The goal, says William Mark, SRI's president of information and computing services, is to have assistants that are much better at specific tasks than a general-interest assistant like Siri.

"If you were to say to Siri, 'transfer $200 from savings to checking,' or something like that, Siri would just look something up on the web about transfers," Mark says. "That's not a critique of Siri, it's just that Siri doesn't know anything about banking."

The specifics of SRI's efforts are still murky, but in 2014 the group spun off a startup called Kasisto, which recently launched personal banking bots for Facebook Messenger, Slack, and text messaging. A separate Kasisto bot will soon be able help people keep track of their investments.

The former Siri team is now Viv and is competing.

SRI won't be alone in trying to enable more domain-specific knowledge in chatbots. The group may even provide a rival, of sorts, in Viv, which made a splash in May with an impressive virtual assistant demo. Although Viv seems to emphasize one bot versus many bots, the broad strokes of allowing developers to easily impart deep subject knowledge are similar. Viv even shares a similar lineage, with the founders having worked at SRI before cofounding the Siri spin-off.

While Viv has shown off a powerful demo, SRI hasn't shown much of anything yet. Still, demos don't matter much in AI, where the real test is what happens when ordinary users are allowed to say whatever they want. That may explain why Mark, when asked about Viv, is reluctant to say much.

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