OK Google, Siri, Echo: the many voices of AI

By July 07, 2016
Intelligence artificielle

[Inside Track] Artificial Intelligence looks set to really take off, in combination with voice command technology. What are the advantages and the risks? Nathalie Doré, CEO of L'Atelier BNP Paribas North America, gives us an overview.

Forget your smartphones and other accessories: voice communication underpinned by artificial intelligence (AI) is going to be the basis for our connected day-to-day lives. And the shift has already begun!
Some pointers: a recent survey, which polled a representative sample of 500 US residents, revealed that only 2% of iPhone users have never used the virtual assistant Siri. Meanwhile Google revealed during the Google IO developer festival held in Mountain View in May just how much emphasis the Internet giant is now placing on voice technology. In the very near future, voice might well be used to direct Google searches, a prospect which could explain the firm’s massive investment in Google Assistant.

Another pointer: we can count on seeing increasingly high-performance and lower-cost artificial intelligence tools. Elon Musk and several other investors have pumped $1 billion into creating non-profit artificial intelligence research company OpenAI, whose aim is to further the overall development of AI.


Voice + AI: already with us

In terms of how we do things today, the voice-AI combination is already part of our daily lives. At breakfast you can ask Amazon’s Alexa – this ‘wake word’ can also be changed to Amazon or Echo – to give you today’s diary page plus the weather forecast and the traffic situation. The virtual nurse available through the app developed by San Francisco-based startup Sense.ly will take care of making an appointment for your medical checkup and at the same time encourage you to take some exercise. AI personal trainer Vi is a virtual sports coach wearable device that keeps an eye on the health and condition of avid runners and encourages them to surpass their limits. Your personal assistant Amy reminds you when you have to be at work and manages your meetings. All this is of course already very often managed through voice technology.

Our artificial friend?

The spread of voice technology is now also raising questions about the nature of our relationship with this talking AI presence, stimulating a heated debate in Silicon Valley. Nell Watson from Singularity University foresees the development of ‘artificial empathy’. This engineer, ‘entreprenerd’ and philosopher argued recently that all relationships imply attachment. In similar vein to the well-known psychologist Serge Tisseron, whose work she celebrates in her latest book, Nell Watson believes that human beings will come to develop feelings for robots similar to those they have for their domestic pets.



A lifestyle assistant who only wants to help us?

However, one serious pitfall – which is certainly not being sufficiently aired at the moment – is the risk that our cognitive capabilities might be progressively diminished as we come to depend on our AI assistant to take care of things. While there are obvious advantages to using a virtual assistant, having our helper anticipate our needs and wishes, and perhaps even do our thinking for us, could over time prove to be risky. Are we going to find it harder in the future to take decisions for ourselves, to explore new ideas, to invent things? We will certainly need to use these new technologies wisely. And in particular we should probably think about keeping some time and opportunity for our brains to work, to develop our skills, our activities and our own thoughts!

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