When Will Siri, Cortana and Google Now Get Smart?

The idea of intelligent personal assistants or voice assistants like Apple’s Siri, Microsoft’s Cortana and Google Now seems very cool — talking to a computer and having it talk back. It should be like talking to the computer on Star Trek’s starship Enterprise. If the technology worked well, these digital assistants could be game-changing. Unfortunately, it doesn’t — not yet, anyway.

In the wonderful world of technology, we often get way ahead of ourselves. It’s the idea that propels us, even if the reality takes years to catch up. It’s like a birthday cake made entirely of frosting.

That’s the state of today’s intelligent personal assistants. They’re not too intelligent. It’s enjoyable to play around with them, even if we get a useful answer only once out of every five or 10 tries. It’s like spinning the wheel in Las Vegas. We give it another try and hope for the best.

Siri receives 1 billion requests every week, according to Apple. That’s incredible. However, all that says is that we want Siri to work. It doesn’t sa how many of those attempts are wrong and frustrating. Now that would be an interesting number.

As limited as intelligent personal assistants are today, they will get better, stronger and faster over time. Will they ever get to be as good as what we see on TV? Who knows? Still, they will be better than they are today.

Worries About Tomorrow

As the technology improves, we may have different concerns. What if our digital assistants get too smart and control too much of our lives?

That could happen when the voice at the front end of a computer system starts articulating what the back end actually is thinking.

Machines don’t have a conscience. That’s why we may begin to fear technology. Today’s assistants seem like friendly, bumbling idiots stumbling around trying to help us out. That could change.

Better, Stronger, Faster

This is a brand new space, and anything brand new will experience a lot of hiccups. Siri was released on the iPhone in 2011. Google Now was released in 2012. Cortana was introduced in 2014. These intelligent personal assistants are still in their infancy.

Think of this like the Model T car from Ford. Today we look at the Model T as the beginning of an automotive revolution that changed our lives. However, back when it was first introduced, it wasn’t a smooth ride.

Too Many Assistants

We can see how Siri, Cortana and Now will continue to grow and get more accurate — and we can count on more intelligent personal assistants entering this space. There are newcomers like Amazon’s Alexa, which launched on the Echo speaker in 2014. More will continue to appear.

The automotive industry is another area where this technology is exploding. Some automakers use their own systems while others let you use your smartphone. The problem with this is that if you are an Apple Siri user, it may take some time before you understand the Hyundai system, which uses Google Android Auto. Will you even be able to drive a Hyundai with Android if you currently use an Apple iPhone?

What will our world look like — and sound like — in another five or 10 years? We’ll likely go through a period of too many voice assistants, and each will have it’s own set of issues and rules.

Some will be more advanced than others. Some will be more accurate than others. As they improve, they will control more of our society and our personal lives.

A Generational Thing

The user’s age will play a role in how this technology is experienced. Baby boomers recall the days before voice assistants, tablets, smartphones — even computers. Those were the days of plain old telephone service, or POTS.

When wireless phones made their entry, they dramatically changed communications. It must have been the way it was when the first Model Ts hit the streets.

Younger people were born into a high-tech world. They never had to be tethered to the kitchen phone. As technology continues to advance, they’ll roll with it.

They won’t remember not being able to watch television on their smarpthone or tablet from anywhere they might be. This new world will be the same old world for them.

Goodbye Typing?

As voice assistants become more accurate, we will use the keyboard less and less. Everything will move toward speech. That shift will impact users of today’s keyboards the most. as they will have to embrace a new way of thinking about technology and about communicating their thoughts.

There is always a struggle between the old and new. Kids born now may not even use a keyboard. They will become used to intelligent and accurate voice assistants — much more advanced versions of the Siri, Cortana and Now tools that we struggle with today.

Times Change

Those who have been around for a while may struggle to integrate old and new technologies. Those who were born into the smartphone world will see tech completely differently.

However, the next generation will regard keyboards and other commonplace tech the way we look at the Model T. How quaint. Are you ready? I’m not sure I am — but what choice do we have?

Just remember, all this cool new technology that lets us talk to our computers is still more hope for the future than reality today. It may seem cool, but that’s the problem — so far, it just seems that way.

Jeff Kagan

E-Commerce Times columnist Jeff Kagan is a wireless analyst, telecom analyst, industry analyst, consultant and speaker who has been sharing his colorful perspectives on the changing industry for 25 years. Email him at [email protected].

1 Comment

  • I disagree with this article actually. When did the author last use "Ok Google"?

    I use it pretty regularly and it’s reached the point where it often gives a better reply than a human would.

    I use it for lots of things, but here are a couple of examples:

    I was in Hyde Park at the weekend. A tourist came up to me and asked where the Four Seasons hotel was. I pressed a button on my phone and said "Ok Google, navigate to the Four Seasons Hotel". Just a few seconds later, a map appeared with a line from our current location to the hotel.

    When reading, Ok Google has replaced my dictionary. I’m finding that even with words I don’t know how to pronounce, Google still guesses correctly almost 100% of the time. It’s actually astounding. Reading a medical book recently, I said "Ok Google, define ‘arterial occlusion’". A couple of seconds later it read out a detailed definition. It almost never fails to recognize a word on the first try.

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