Are virtual assistants getting smarter?

We're taking a look at Siri, Cortana, Google Now and a new kid on the block...
Are virtual assistants getting smarter?

It’s Virtual Assistant Day today, folks. At last, the day has arrived where the virtual assistants on our smartphones becomes sentient and rise up to rule over us. It’s been predicted for a while and now it’s finally happening.

Actually, we’ve just double-checked and that’s not quite true. Virtual Assistant Day is just a day to acknowledge their good work. Phew. So let's remind ourselves of what the 'big three' are able to do for us, and then we'll take a look at a new kid on the block called Viv.

Cortana (Windows Phone, iOS and Android)

Cortana comes with bags of personality, and she’s especially good for location-based reminders like “Remind me to get a bunch of Mother’s Day flowers when I pass a florist.”

We like the fact that Cortana is a real person. By that, we mean her voice is that of Jen Taylor, who also voiced Cortana in the Halo video game series. This makes Cortana the only virtual assistant capable of doing impressions, including Harry Potter, Buzz Lightyear and a pretty decent Yoda.

Cortana used to live exclusively on Windows Phone, but you can now get her on Android and iOS. She’s also on all Windows 10 devices, which means you can do things like sending messages from your PC, without even having to pick up your phone.

Siri (iOS)

Siri’s great at understanding natural language. You don’t have to worry about phrasing a question in the exact same way each time - Siri is smart enough to pick up on lots of different ways that a question can be asked.

Siri is also extremely capable of handling follow up questions. So if you ask her to find you a restaurant, you can then simply say something like: “Give me directions.”

Here are a few example questions and commands that Siri handles with ease:

  • When is my mother’s birthday?
  • What has Justin Bieber been tweeting about?
  • Make my screen brighter.
  • Text Geoff and Ross - what time are you arriving?
  • Post to FaceBook – I love the new Radiohead album.

Google Now (Android)

Google Now’s strength is the impressive (and in no way scary) knowledge it has about your life. It knows the route you commute into work, the main details of your daily schedule, the music you like and the team you support. And because it has access to Google Maps, you can rely on it to give you accurate directions and up-to-the-minute traffic updates.

Google has put a lot of work into voice recognition and machine learning with Google Now. Not only is it great at understanding questions, it also takes the appropriate action. This might include starting a trip in Google Maps or setting an alarm or giving you some search results. And like Siri, it’s great at follow up questions.

Google Now doesn’t have an amazing personality like Siri or Cortana. But it you’re looking for a quiet, straightforward and super-efficient virtual assistant, it ticks all the boxes.


Video courtesy of TechCrunch

Viv is a newly unveiled virtual assistant that wowed the audience of TechCrunch Disrupt in New York City recently. Viv (which means ‘life’ in latin, if you’re wondering where the name came from) has been created by the people behind Siri, and it looks like it’s going to incredibly smart. During the demonstration it was able to answer questions as complex as: "Will it be warmer than 70 degrees near the Golden Gate Bridge, after 5 p.m., the day after tomorrow?"

Viv doesn't yet have a virtual voice, but that’s something the team is currently working on. According to their website, Viv is 'coming soon to devices near you'. If you're interested, you can sign-up to hear when Viv will be available to download.

Tell us what you think of your favourite virtual assistant. When did it impress you the most? Would it be tough to live without it? Drop us line below.

What are your thoughts? Join the conversation here…

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