Siri’s creators will debut next-gen AI assistant next week

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HAL 9000 is the spiritual antecedent of CARROT. Photo:
We're getting closer to HAL 9000 every day.
Photo: 2001: A Space Odyssey

Siri has been gradually getting better since its debut in 2011, but some of its original creators are set to introduce its successor, Viv, next week — and, by all accounts, Siri better watch her back!

Having operated in stealth mode for more than a year, Viv’s arrival hopes to represent a significant step forward in artificial intelligence as AI assistants take on more of an active role in running our lives.

Apple’s next acquisition? It would be great to think so.

One area Viv reportedly excels in is longer conversations, where a tool like Siri is likely to get lost. The Washington Post, for instance, includes the following anecdote from its time with the team:

“Get me a pizza from Pizz’a Chicago near my office,” one of the engineers said into his smartphone. It was their first real test of Viv … Everyone was a little nervous. Then, a text from Viv piped up: “Would you like toppings with that?”

The engineers, eight in all, started jumping in: “Pepperoni.” “Half cheese.” “Caesar salad.” Emboldened by the result, they peppered Viv with more commands: Add more toppings. Remove toppings. Change medium size to large.

About 40 minutes later — and after a few hiccups when Viv confused the office address — a Pizz’a Chicago driver showed up with four made-to-order pizzas.

The engineers erupted in cheers as the pizzas arrived. They had ordered pizza, from start to finish, without placing a single phone call and without doing a Google search — without any typing at all, actually. Moreover, they did it without downloading an app from Domino’s or Grubhub.

Apple isn’t named in the article as one of the companies interested in Viv, but given the project’s pedigree with creators Dag Kittlaus and Adam Cheyer being co-founders of Siri, it would seem a natural fit. This week, venture capitalist Fred Wilson, founder and managing partner of Union Square Ventures, voiced the opinion that Apple should focus on building up its focus on AI.

In the meantime, both Google and Facebook have reportedly made offers to snap up Viv — with Mark Zuckerberg already an investor in the project through his involvement with the firm Iconiq Capital.

Given the gulf between what Siri was shown being capable of during the initial iPhone 4s presentation and the advanced beta which wound up shipping, I won’t get too excited about Viv without being able to try it for myself. But both Kittlaus and Cheyer are incredibly smart, visionary guys — and as two of the innovators behind the modern AI assistant, they’re absolutely the right people to help usher in the next big breakthrough.

Viv is set to be shown off publicly for the first time on Monday at a major industry conference. No shipping date has yet been announced.

What improvements would you like to see for a truly next-gen AI assistant? Are there any frustrations you regularly have with Siri that you would like to see fixed? Leave your comments below.