Talk to the hand – and the computer, and the home device, and the…

5756932852_de6e6ebf5b_zAt the core of what is going to drive this new wave of adoption of AI will be the “conversational interface.”* We spoke a bit about bots, and how the more sophisticated ones are attempting to be conversationally savvy. But the real action around conversational interfaces is best shown by Google’s recent hardware moves.

Talk to the Oracle
I’ve always thought of Google as the Oracle, in the antiquity sense of “a person or agency considered to provide wise and insightful counsel or prophetic predictions or precognition of the future, inspired by the gods.” Ask and ye shall learn (don’t tell me you haven’t asked Google random questions and wondered what you would find out).

AI is driven by knowledge and learning, which Google, as the Oracle, has been amassing for years. Google has made it clear that their new hardware will be the gateway to that Oracle, that AI. And by making that hardware, they can define the experience of conversing with that AI.

Google getting into hardware is a wakeup call for device and software manufacturers who have been dabbling with things that could be driven by AI. There was an expectation that Google would eventually start building its own hardware, going beyond just Android licensing, though even Walt Mossberg admits he missed AI as the motivation behind Google’s hardware interest.

As an aside: Wondering from my perspective as a software person at a hardware manufacturer, is the hardware simply Google’s way to set a reference as to how it sees the future of AI, of the Google Oracle of knowledge; or will Google actually build out a whole range of products? How far will Google go with hardware?

Siri-ously great conversation
The other dabblers in AI have been building capabilities into their voice-driven interfaces in their devices – Apple with Siri, Microsoft with Cortana, and others. But these guys do not necessarily have the knowledge and learning that Google has amassed.

Also, Apple squandered the AI lead with Siri. It seems that Apple has been focused on Siri as a UI tool rather than an extension of users wanting to do things, find things, know things. What Google’s move shows, it’s clear that Siri’s future is all about the capability of the AI behind it.

I’m not bad. I’m only drawn that way.
I am perhaps being unfair to Apple. Keep in mind the origins and soul of Google and Apple. Google is the ultimate bot, amassing information and making it available to the world. They really do not care about the humans, in so much as Google can serve and answer the humans’ questions.

Apple on the other hand is about crafting the amazing experience I have with my photos, my music, and, increasingly, my people (though I don’t see Apple getting social communication any more ‘right’ thank Google can). Yet, and this is relevant for building AI, Apple is not about communicating with data, information, knowledge.

So I ask: Google is great at knowledge, but can it nail the hardware experience? Apple is great at the hardware experience, but can it nail the AI experience?

Talk to the morsels
Amazon and Facebook also want to get into the hardware and AI game, but how does that fit their origins, that narrative they have written for themselves? Facebook does have a lot of knowledge, but of people and their actions and the social tokens they exchange, not the hardcore information that Google has. Amazon also has amassed information, but of what folks buy and consume; there is no insight into communication between people.

Yes, each of these behemoths have a piece of the puzzle. Of course, having been outside them my whole life, I have always had the philosophy of tying the morsels together. That also presents another path. Though not sure how we’ll traverse the various flavors of AI and repositories of knowledge and actions.

Image from Mary McCoy. Hat-tip to Stephanie Rieger for the conversational interface link.

*OK. I’ve been burning to say this on conversational interfaces. Speech doesn’t work in many of our daily places. We’ll still need to keep on writing our questions to the Oracle, conversationally, of course. That’d be one heck of a command line. Though Google is showing much of this powerful command line in their simple but everlasting search box.