A few months ago, I wrote about X.ai and the intelligent assistant product that they call Amy. Amy is different from most personal intelligent assistants in that you don’t talk to her directly. Instead, Amy ‘listens in’ to your email conversations and takes instructions based on the content of what you write. You can instruct her specifically to set up a meeting for you, but she’s intelligent enough to pick up the nuances of what you need by analyzing your emails.
This type of implicit understanding seems to be the latest trend in intelligent assistant technologies. Techcrunch reported last week that Google acquired Emu, an instant messaging app that appears to have the same sort of context-aware, behind-the-scenes smart assistant built into it. It was just back in April of this year, according to another Techcrunch report, that Emu exited Beta with its mobile messaging app. Obviously, Google must see a lot of promise in the technology if they were anxious to snap it up so quickly.
Emu seems to have a broader range of talents than X.ai’s Amy at this point. According to the Techcrunch article, Emu can proactively offer up contextual information based on a number of different topics that you might happen to be texting with friends about. If you’re texting about a dinner date, for example, Emu can show you your calendar, as well as the location and Yelp ratings of relevant restaurants. It can offer the same type of on the spot info about nearby movies if the conversation turns in that direction. The app also lets you tap a button to carry out an action related to the information Emu has retrieved. For example, you can reserve a table at a restaurant or purchase movie tickets.
All of the attributes make Emu sound more like a real personal assistant then either Siri or Google Now. And it seems the importance of perfecting voice recognition is taking a back seat to an assistant’s ability to infer context and relevant data based on “ambient” information. I use the term ambient to refer to information that surrounds us in our emails, texts, and search behavior. Google Now seems to be more satisfying than Siri as an assistant, precisely because you don’t have to talk to it or ask it anything. It picks up pieces of relevant information about your life by accessing the same data sources that you use routinely.
It will be interesting to see what Google does with the Emu acquisition. It’s also a fun thought experiment to consider how this type of ambient assistance could be applied to enterprise virtual assistants. Recommendation engines, like those suggesting books and movies you might like, are an example of this technology. Customer service intelligent agents that are smart enough to assist you based on a knowledge of your past purchases and preferences might be an appealing concept–as long as they can steer clear of the creepy factor.