The first step away from search engines and towards intelligent assistants was marked by Google’s launch in 2012 of Google Now, which offered “information that you need throughout your day, before you even ask”. It tried to predict what users might want – such as weather reports, sports results or public transport updates – and this information would appear on your phone without the need to type anything into a search bar.
By 2016 this had evolved into Google Assistant, capable of having a two-way dialogue with the user, and designed with wearable technologies in mind. You can ask it to remember things (such as codes or passwords) and it learns to recognise things you do regularly so it can offer relevant suggestions. It can also look at what is on your phone screen to get ‘context’ for what you are doing – for example if you are discussing going to a rock-climbing centre with a friend, it can show you prices and directions.
A trend for tech firms
Apple, which was already doing well with its personal assistant Siri, launched a contextually-aware feature called Proactive in 2015. It works in a similar way to the Google version, looking at your routine and offering help at key moments. If you drive home at the same time every day it might bring up traffic information just as you leave, or remember what music you last had on in the car.
All the big tech firms are investing heavily in intelligent assistants: Microsoft has the virtual assistant Cortana, working on its Windows phone platform and in Windows 10, and Amazon is strenuously touting its Alexa personal assistant, which works with its smart speaker Echo. Alexa can be told to order a pizza, get a taxi or remember a ‘to do’ list.
The use of the smart speaker is a sign of where intelligent assistance will go next – it is not just about the battle of the smartphones, but about wrap-around helpfulness with every aspect of your life, at home, at work and in-between.
The internet of things means the infrastructure for this is already in place, with tech giants acquiring smart thermostat companies and other home automation software in preparation. Furthermore, wearable technologies will make it easier to keep your personal assistant with you at all times.