Google, Facebook stepping up with virtual assistants

Google, Facebook stepping up with virtual assistantsNews of Google and Facebook releasing their own virtual assistants, or chatbots, has driven some analysts to forecast there may be more to follow in 2016.

“Chatbots are designed to answer questions, to perform searches, to interact with you in a very simple form, such as jokes or weather,” said Altimeter Group principal analyst Brian Solis, predicting what the immediate future may hold for virtual assistants. “Ultimately, they should be able to anticipate your needs and help you shop.”

While the likes of Apple’s Siri and Microsoft’s Cortana have been quite impressive as virtual personal assistants, experts believe chatbots may become more human this year, with a more conversational style of communicating with users. Siri immediately comes to mind, though in the area of being more human and conversational, the chatbot space does have a lot of catching up to do, which may likely happen later this year.

One of the more “human” virtual assistants we may see in 2016 is Facebook’s chatbot called “M.” With a short and punchy name, “M” isn’t just able to have a normal conversation with a human user; it can also tell jokes, purchase items, or stay on the line as you call utility services. M relies on both artificial intelligence, as well as people who train the AI robots to serve as a virtual secretary.

There are also apps that serve as virtual assistants, such as Mona, an app designed for the iOS platform. The brainchild of ex-Amazon employees, Mona acts like a virtual concierge, giving recommendations to users, particularly 18- to 35-year-old women riding the wave of the online shopping craze.

“Mona will show you five items, and you will be able to say, ‘Mona, I like the first one but can you show me that in a different color?’,” said Mona co-founder and CEO Orkun Atik. “And we want to give her a personality because we believe that we can advance her to a level where you’re talking to a person.”

All told, Facebook and Google won’t be alone as virtual assistants become more popular in 2016, as even the little guys, including Seattle-based Mona, look all ready to knock it out of the park in the new year.