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Virtual Assistants
Valkyrie McGill   Mar 23, 2013   Ethical Technology  

I should in all fairness start by telling you I am not an Apple fan. I haven’t been one since Apple was founded, and haven’t seen much evidence over the years for a need to change my opinion of them. But even I have to grudgingly admit that Apple has provided significant contributions to the advancement of technology.

What I like about those contributions is that they have the nice tendency to inspire further contributions outside of the walled garden Apple tries to force it’s users into.

You probably know about Siri, Apple’s “assistant app”. And many of you are probably aware of John Smart’s concept of a “CyberTwin”. Well I just read this article on Huffpo, which discusses a new application which will essentially allow “personality capture” of an individual to allow a “Siri” like assistant on the specific subject said personality is an expert in. Essentially, it will create a “cybertwin” of an individual, allowing access to that individuals knowledgebase in the format of a “virtual assistant”. While Siri might be an inspiration, this app goes far beyond it’s “one size fits all” mentality and could lead to infinitely customizable “Virtual Assistants”

Many of you might have read my article on Watson, and how this technology could lead to “artificial expert” systems. This app, once developed, could quite easily be combined with a “Watson” class artificial expert to allow a virtual “copy” to be able to assist how knows how many thousands of people at once. Think about that for a second. Imagine having Hawking available to answer your physics questions at a moment’s notice. Going out tonight? How about asking Vidal Sassoon for some fashion advice? Want to rent a movie? Call up Ebert and ask him what’s good.

But it goes far beyond that. Imagine being able to argue with me about my articles 24/7. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to answer the exact same questions and objections over and over. A well trained “cybertwin” of me could field the tedious task of repeating my answers to each new reader who’s not seen the previous times I’ve answered their questions. But more than that, imagine your own “cyber twin”, created and developed from feeding it all your past posts, comments, articles, emails, etc. Once properly “trained” such a system could easily carry out many mundane tasks for you, from answering the phone, to sorting out and organizing your computer (I’d love to have an assistant sort and properly tag all my thousands of MP3 files) or even performing routine web searches for information you’d find of interest.

Then think about how many jobs such a “virtual assistant” could replace humans in. I’ve already discussed many of them in my Watson article, but think about mundane tasks, like taking your order in a fast food joint. A VA could take your order at the drive through, and you would never even know it. That Secretary you called to make that appointment with at the Doctors could just as easily be a VA as a human. That VA on the Doctor’s smartphone could transcribe his notes instantly.

And once we’ve developed the ability to create full “virtual personas” there’s no reason such VA’s even need to be modeled on living people. Imagine having Marilyn Monroe being your personal secretary. Or Bogart as your search assistant.

I’ve talked about the gradual merging of the virtual and real, and how dramatically it will change nearly everything. This is just one more small step in that direction, and it’s just beginning.

You ain’t seen nothing yet.

Valkyrie Ice is a writer and futurist for Acceler8or.com and H+ magazine.



COMMENTS

You would still need to be aware of every task or action your virtual assistant avatar takes for you on your behalf, which still kinda leaves you playing catch up?

Virtual assistant avatars are a step in the right direction towards more intimate and natural interface with computerised machines and robots, albeit the personal assistant is still rather a sales gimmick? However if this kind of personalisation sells and promotes more units and yet further innovation it’s a positive?

Access to Watson and his super data-mining cousins is only a matter of time and investment/sales, and as far as Siri is concerned, I’ve read this could already be more intuitive and useful if Apple did not focus so much time on aesthetics?

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