On Christmas Day 2015, I’ll be inviting a new guest into my home, and really, for my life from here on out. A version of me that has the potential to be just as good, if not better, in many ways. It’ll learn from me, evolve over time, make decisions and possibly know as much about me as I know about myself.
The guest I speak of is named Alexa, the cloud-based personal assistant/voice service of Amazon Echo, but Alexa is really just another version of me. The one I invite into my life, allow to know everything about me and eventually trust as much as I would a fellow human – maybe even myself. Welcome to the world of true personal assistants in the form of A.I.
Now, the current version of Echo won’t be all of this yet, but it’ll be the first step toward the new form our devices are taking. No longer will they simply respond to our manual actions, they’ll start learning and evolving based on our behavior and preferences.
That concept may sound strange, but it shouldn’t. We’ve been increasingly placing more trust in algorithms and machines: We let Netflix learn from our interests and serve us content that we like; we trust the Nest Home Thermostat to program itself as it learns our tendencies; and we expect Roomba Robots to clean our floors better than we do.
Is it so strange to imagine a cloud-based assistant ordering our favorite meal, turning on our favorite podcast or reading the morning news to us the moment we enter a room? It shouldn’t, but let’s talk about how we may get there.
As we move into 2016, we have three major players who will be fighting to get into our homes or smartphones as our better halves.
Facebook: The Friend Graph
Facebook M, an A.I. feature built within the Messenger app, will allow us to text requests and receive help in booking services, making purchases and much more.
The value Facebook holds as an assistant is that it knows who our friends are, whom we chat with and what news we care about. In this case, you have the opportunity to build your better half on a friend graph.
It’ll also be fun to see how this evolves in the future once Oculus Rift launches and enters our homes.
Google: The Information Graph
Google Now is a mobile assistant in the Google search app that can pull relevant info for you like flight changes, email updates, news updates and if your train is delayed. Google Now On Tap (Android only) also helps surface information that’s related to what’s going on in your other apps.
Google’s value as an assistant is that they know what’s in our email, what directions we map, what we search for and, like on Facebook, what news we care about. You can build your better half based on the information you constantly seek.
It’s also fun to think how this can evolve in the future if/when Nest is integrated and Google’s self-driving cars become a reality.
Amazon: The Personal Taste Graph
Amazon Echo is a smart device in your home that will field and answer verbal requests like creating shopping lists, providing news, ordering new products for you and more.
The value Amazon holds as a personal assistant is that it knows our purchase history, the books we read (or Washington Post articles), the music we listen to and the movies/TV shows we watch. This is an opportunity to build your better half based on your personal taste.
*Notably left out, but still ready to invade our lives: Apple Siri, Microsoft Cortana and IBM Watson
You don’t need to understand how A.I. works to truly grasp the power it can have on our lives, especially in the long run. Whether it’s Facebook, Google, Amazon, Apple or any of the other players, the more we buy, travel, interact and experience, the more value these personal assistants will have in our lives, and the less we’ll be doing to help ourselves.
Will 2016 be the beginning of something beautiful between us and our new friends? You can send my A.I. assistant an email next December and it will probably be able to give you a better answer to this question than I.
R.J. Fenn is Director of Digital Planning at Deutsch New York