Beyond Apple, Facebook, Microsoft, and Google: Intelligent Assistants Landscape


Ever since Apple’s Siri heralded the age of intelligent assistants (IAs) four years ago — followed by Microsoft, Google, Microsoft, and Facebook — pundits have complained that intelligent assistant technology isn’t living up to its promise…

In 2015, the IA space introduced new features, functions, and integrations at an accelerated rate. As the general public becomes more comfortable communicating with machines using their own words, demand is growing. On the supply side, technology providers benefit from “the API economy.” Well-defined interfaces and integration points make it possible for today’s IAs to add new tasks and capabilities to their repertoire quickly and efficiently. For example, Alexa, the IA for Amazon’s Echo, has moved beyond reading e-books aloud and can now order pizza and summon Uber.

Apple’s Siri, which is decidedly less open, still allows its users to make posts to Facebook, book tables at nearby restaurants, play podcasts, and make appointments for you. Google’s unnamed IA is able to provide turn-by-turn directions. Microsoft’s Cortana adds travel times for planning purposes. And now Facebook’s message-based M can recommend clothing stores and new fashions and share all this with your friends…

Here are the developments we saw in 2015:

  1. The proliferation of bots: New bots appeared almost weekly. One example is Evia, which can help individuals buy car insurance based on a picture of their license plate.
  2. Mass acceptance of natural language processing: We no longer bark commands or search terms, instead we ask questions and speak in full sentences.
  3. Migration to messaging: WhatsApp, WeChat, Facebook Messenger, and their peers are adding bots and becoming e-commerce ecosystems.
  4. Emergence of emotion detection: Companies like Emobase and Heartbeat Technologies are sorting out how to recognize and respond to our emotional “tells.”

And here’s what we’ll see in 2016:

  1. Intelligent Authentication (IAuth) promotes trust: IAuth will make it possible for an IA to have strong confidence that the person it is conversing with is who he or she claims to be. It will also help IAs maintain context and be better able to take turns in a conversation.
  2. Growth of conversational commerce: Today’s IAs customarily answer questions and then move on. Future IAs will know that, because you asked about nearby restaurants, there’s a good chance you will want to book a table. And, as long as you are going to book a table, perhaps you want share the experience with your friends and family.
  3. Empathetic IAs: Speech analytics can already detect when an individual is angry and ready to change vendors, but a new generation of solutions providers promote emotion detection that is responsive to a broader array of feelings.
  4. Ubiquitous IA: Amazon’s Echo has open APIs that keep adding capabilities. Today most of them are in the kitchen but many have moved to the family room to rule the TV. Consistent, conversational interfaces to cars and public kiosks are next.