Tech companies have spent the past few years experimenting with virtual assistants. Apple’s Siri, for example, allows an iOS user to ask questions and receive spoken answers in return; Google Now also focuses on voice activation, although it tends to present useful information as visuals on “cards” rather than talking back; Microsoft’s Cortana, available with Windows Phone, does its best to learn the user’s personality and respond to needs as they arise.
But IBM wants to take things one step further: Rather than present users with a single virtual personality, it wants its digital assistant to appear in the most ideal form to whomever’s interacting with it. To that end, the company has acquired Cognea, which has been working on technology in this vein for some time.
An official posting on IBM’s A Smarter Planet blog describes the range of Cognea personalities from “suit-and-tie formal to kid-next-door friendly,” and suggests that the “focus on creating depth of personality, when combined with an understanding of the users’ personalities will create a new level of interaction that is far beyond today’s ‘talking’ smartphones.”
Cognea technology, of course, will end up in IBM’s Watson supercomputing platform. “We’re going to make Watson conversational services available to all of the members of our ecosystem—business partners, entrepreneurs, universities, and enterprises,” the blog posting added. “They’ll be able to tap into these services on the Watson platform through the Watson Developer Cloud.” In theory, third-party developers could use that capability to make interacting with apps more personable.
IBM has good reason to invest in this line of research: Google, Apple, Microsoft, and other big tech firms have all made it clear that they intend to invest heavily in broadening their digital assistants’ capabilities over the next several years. IBM is investing too much in artificial intelligence to have its flagship products seem stilted or wooden in comparison to rival products.
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