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Alexa, Siri and Google Assistant Desperately Want To Help You Do Your Routine -- But it Takes Too Much Programming and There Are Still Too Many Holes

Monday January 7, 2019. 07:00 PM , from Slashdot
Google's Assistant and Amazon's Alexa are rapidly increasing their reach, and Apple's Siri is supposedly getting smarter. But all of these AI assistants are still too clumsy in day to day. David Pierce, writing for WSJ: My virtual assistant desperately wants to help me. Google Assistant, Amazon's Alexa, Apple's Siri -- even Samsung's Bixby and others -- have begun allowing users to set up 'routines' that combine many actions into a single command. Shout 'OK Google, good morning!' at your smart speaker and it can (in theory) open the blinds, turn on the lights, show you traffic and your calendar and turn on NPR. Tell Alexa to start a dance party, and watch it turn on the disco ball and fire up the 'Glitter and Glowsticks' playlist. These routines embody what virtual assistants are meant to do, connecting all our gadgets and services and making everything work together. All you have to do is ask. And maybe not even that -- these tools aim to get to know you so well, they'll anticipate your needs. But these multistep systems are complicated to create, and they often require buying 'smart' accessories and memorizing specific phrases.

In most cases, voice-controlled assistants have hit a wall where they perform a specific set of tasks well and not much else. They may be crazy ambitious, but they aren't ready to take on real work. If you are willing to do some finagling, there are already ways to make your devices and services work together better. Tools like IFTTT and Zapier let you connect web services, so you can automatically save every photo you share on Instagram into a Dropbox folder, or file your sales contacts into a spreadsheet. All these tools offer sample routines, and I recommend trying a few. If you want to create a specific routine from scratch, just know: It's hard. It feels like putting together Ikea furniture without the instructions -- most of the pieces are there, but good luck building something that stands up. A sufficiently smart home should observe and adapt to your needs. That kind of proactive, thoughtful help is a long way off. It will require computers that understand far more about us than they do now.

Read more of this story at Slashdot.
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