SILVIA – An Intelligent Assistant Platform Whose Time Has Come

SILVIASometimes you’re too early to market with an idea or a technology that’s ahead of its time. That might have been the case with Cognitive Code’s SILVIA platform. But time has been catching up and SILVIA is well positioned to meet growing market demand. The brainchild of Leslie Spring, former Principle Software Engineer at Sony Pictures Digital, SILVIA is a conversational agent platform that was developed years before Siri appeared on the iPhone. In fact, when SILVIA first saw the light of day, smartphones didn’t even exist.

SILVIA has matured since those early days. Now her timing couldn’t be better. That’s the sense I got during a recent phone interview with Mr. Spring. It’s not just that Siri, Google Now, and other intelligent assistant apps have made people aware of their compelling possibilities. It’s more about what Spring refers to as a convergence of technologies. More on that later. First, though, just what is SILVIA and what makes her special? (Note: I’ll refer to SILVIA and her technology as “she,” because that’s the pronoun Spring used during our discussions and it seems to fit).

SIlVIA is actually an acronym that stands for “symbolically isolated, linguistically variable, intelligence algorithm.”  That’s a mouthful for sure, so let’s break it down. “Symbolically isolated,” Spring explained, refers to the unique method SILIVA uses to process language input. SILVIA doesn’t work in the same way as chatbots built with AIML (Artificial Intelligence Mark-Up Language). The AIML runtime platform takes words as input, matches these words to patterns in the chatbot’s database, and issues predefined phrases as output. SILVIA takes words for input, but she transforms them into a mathematical language all her own. As speech or text enters her brain, her runtime system isolates those words into an intelligence core based on symbols and statistical relationships. This transformation is a bit of a challenge to imagine, but it plays a key role both in SILVIA’s capabilities as well as in her potential commercial applications.

“Linguistically variable” refers to the fact that SILVIA isn’t tied to any one language. Because the SILVIA brain thinks in terms of mathematical units, SILVIA is a polyglot who can easily switch from one language to another without requiring special programming.

The “intelligence algorithm” part of SILVIA’s name refers back to the statistical runtime of the platform. Because SILVIA doesn’t rely solely on simplistic pattern matching, she is able to conceptualize meaning from input and dynamically generate new output. With the ability to connect concepts and ideas, SILVIA can engage in something akin to a real conversation. She’s also easier to “train” than a normal chatbot, because you’re not required to pre-populate her database with every possible question and answer. You also don’t have to account for misspellings or different ways of asking the same question. SILVIA’s flexible intelligence core can sort those things out automatically.

The SILVIA platform consists of the runtime, a developer studio, extensible plug-ins to connect to data sources or applications, and brain files that control the app’s behavior.  The built-in database makes it possible for SILVIA to learn and remember the preferences of those she serves. She can use this stored knowledge in a number of ways, including to infer user intent and to proactively engage the user.

With all the power this technology offers, why haven’t Cognitive Code and the SILVIA platform taken the world by storm? This brings us back to Mr. Spring’s theory of the convergence of technologies. For years, SILVIA’s powerful brain and conversational processing capability didn’t have the benefit of today’s voice recognition software, the advances in natural language processing, and the advent of smartphones and lightweight apps. Now that this world of intelligent, speech-ready assistants is finally here, SILVIA may have a key advantage over potential rivals.

What’s the SILVIA advantage? Our future is likely to be filled with smart machines that simplify and enrich our lives in ways that are currently hard to imagine. The “Internet of Things” (IoT) is the buzz phrase used to describe a world of objects embedded with computing power and capable of communicating with other objects. In the world of IoT, home appliances are aware of their surroundings and their current state. They can communicate with each other, with service centers, and with the homeowner. In the IoT world, you can talk to your thermostat about what you’d like it to do while you’re away on vacation, chat with your crock pot about recipes and cooking times, and converse with your TV about the evening’s viewing selection. While all that is going on, your smart health wristband can communicate vital information to your physician.

What separates SILVIA from other intelligent assistant apps or virtual agent platforms is her ability to run natively within a small device. With her compact runtime environment, SILVIA has a minimal footprint and doesn’t even require a connection to the cloud. SILVIA technology could be embedded in your TV, for example, giving you access to her full range of capabilities. The same thing goes with SILVIA on your tablet, in your car, or embedded in appliances and devices throughout your home and office.

The time is ripe for smart virtual agent platforms. Technologies that were long in the making have matured and converged and it’s anybody’s guess what the intelligent assistant market will look like in the next few years. If Leslie Spring’s enthusiasm about the possibilities is any indication, SILIVA’s future looks very bright.