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Siri, Google Assistant And The Offline World Of Artificial Intelligence

AI assistants need to work offline in countries like India, where reliable Net connection is still a luxury.

16/01/2017 3:31 PM IST | Updated 16/01/2017 4:56 PM IST
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In September 2016, Google launched its new chat app Allo in India. The app's highlight was the Artifical Intelligence powered Google Assistant -- a conversational bot that could help perform tasks such setting reminders, searching for restaurants, booking movie tickets, sending a text to someone and much more.

The main caveat was that the Assistant works only online. While it is quite obvious that one would not be able to get the latest movie shows or their favorite football team scores without the Internet, there are phone functions, such as reminders and calls, which can surely be handled by an AI bot without an Internet connection.

Eric Risberg/Associated Press

While Google Now does support some functions offline, Google Assistant and Apple's Siri always asks for online support when you tap the button. So, both Google and Apple really need to step up the game in this section.

The arrival of Reliance Jio and the competition that it has spurred has been good news for mobile connectivity, but a look at the figures shows how badly India still lags in Internet connectivity and broadband speeds. So, given the state of Net connectivity, Siri and Google Assistant should be able to handle a text or a call for me without needing to rely on an Internet connection.

List of offline commands in Google Now

  • Play Music
  • Open <App name>
  • Call <Contact Name>
  • Set a reminder
  • Text <Contact Name>
  • Turn on Wi-Fi
  • Turn up the volume
  • Turn on the flashlight
  • Turn on airplane mode
  • Turn on Bluetooth
  • Dim the screen

One of the main reasons why people are not fond of AI assistants is their inconsistent performance. When you are trying to perform one task, they end up doing something else. While the idea is to also tap their unlimited capabilities for learning and refining their glitches while they are performing tasks for users such as calling an Uber or ordering a meal, it would not be a bad idea to let people first get used to AI doing the simple offline tasks.

People use diaries and planners not because they don't want to use the apps but because the experience is lackluster. If I ask Siri to set a meeting for me at 6 PM and there are five goof ups or no Internet connectivity, I am not going to go through the pain of doing it all over again. I'd just make a manual entry.

One reason why smartwatches or wearables are not as popular is that the AI assistants are not functional on wearables unless those devices are connected to smartphones. So, if I am running or walking and if I need to create an event or make a note, I am unable to do it on my wearable device without an app.

An offline extension of Siri or Google Assistant in smartwatches would make them that much more useful. It'd be much easier to say, "Hey Siri, can you start a run in 10 seconds?" or "Hey Siri, please stop the run" without having to go through too many menus and button presses.

During his recent India visit, Sundar Pichai pointed out the challenges that lie in scaling up AI in the country. Google recently launched a Hindi version of the Assistant as well.

This year is going to be big for AI in smartphones. Samsung is going to introduce a new assistant, called Bixby in Galaxy S8 and Google Assistant is going to get bigger. In addition to AI functionality, companies need to work on their usability as well.

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