Mark Hachman wrote an informative piece last week on Nuance’s Wintermute technology. Nuance is bringing to bear powerful tools that it already owns: state of the art speech recognition, natural language processing, and virtual agent technologies used in Dragon Mobile Assistant and Nina, to create a new kind of virtual agent. In fact, as Hachman points out, Nuance’s goal is to create a persona rather than an ‘agent.’
Is such a goal attainable? As we saw in a recent post about Spike Jonze’s movie “Her,” the idea of smart, appealing software agents that can interact on a personal level with humans is entering the mainstream. In “Her,” the smooth-talking Samantha is a disembodied artificial intelligence, but she’s so skilled at learning about her owner and playing to his interests that he’s quickly smitten.
Nuance doesn’t necessarily want you to fall in love with Wintermute, which is apparently a code name for a product that’s not yet available, but it wants you to trust Wiintermute to understand you and to remember the context of your conversations with it. The really cool feature in demos of the Wintermute technology is the smart persona’s ability to infer what you’re asking for, even when you change the platforms or channels that you use to interact with it. In one demo, for example, a Nuance rep asks Wintermute for information on the score of a basketball game. Later, when the rep turns on a TV set, he simply asks Wintermute to put on the game. Wintermute accesses information stored in the cloud about previous interactions to infer that the rep wants to watch the rest of the same game he was asking about earlier, and it sets the channel appropriately.
If Nuance’s technology pans out, we’ll one day have helpful digital assistants that can remember bits of conversations across time and devices, and that can assist us in so many ways, it’s hard to imagine them all. It still remains to be seen how many of us will become hopelessly enamored with our disembodied smart assistants!