Google, Samsung, Facebook and others race for edge in artificial intelligence

Major technology firms are racing to infuse smartphones and other internet-linked devices with software smarts that help them think like people.

The effort is seen as an evolution in computing that allows users to interact with machines in natural conversation style, telling devices to tend to tasks such as ordering goods, checking traffic, making restaurant reservations or searching for information.

The artificial intelligence (AI) component in these programmes aims to create a world in which everyone can have a virtual aide that get to know them better with each interaction.

Google is making a high-profile push into AI, with the internet titan's chief referring to it as a force for change as powerful as smartphones.

Google Assistant software is being built into the new Pixel handsets - aiming to outdo Apple's Siri - enabling users to organise and use information on the devices and in the cloud - to check emails, stay up to date on calendar appointments, news or ask for traffic and weather data.

Google also offers AI through its Allo messaging application which can be installed on smartphones, and its Google Home hub, a standalone device similar to Amazon's Echo which responds to voice commands to manage tasks and fetch information where people live.

South Korean electronics giant Samsung moved to jumpstart its AI efforts by purchasing the US start-up Viv Labs, launched by the creators of Apple's Siri.

Samsung says the acquisition, which was announced this month, is part of its effort to provide AI-based voice assistance services its customers can use across all Samsung devices and products, from smartphones to televisions to washing machines.

Samsung is the world's leading maker of smartphones powered by Google's free Android software, but also has its own Tizen mobile operating system, so how it may field its own virtual assistant technology remains to be seen.

Amazon in 2014 unveiled its Echo home assistant, a voice-activated speaker, powered by its "Alexa" artificial intelligence programme.

Users can ask for news or information updates, as well as ordering goods from the online retail giant.

Echo also serves as a connected-home hub which can control compatible appliances, lightbulbs and other devices.

Since introducing Echo, Amazon has launched a smaller version called "Dot" and integrated Alexa into its Fire TV devices.

Microsoft's personal assistant uses the name "Cortana" and is available on Windows devices and its Xbox console and as an application on Apple iOS and Android devices.

Unveiled in 2014, Cortana - a name based on a character in its blockbuster game "Halo" - responds to conversationally spoken requests or commands, using insights gleaned from calendars, contact lists, online searches and other smartphone sources to respond in a manner akin to a real-life aide.

Facebook, which is heavily investing in AI, is widely believed to be working on a personal assistant with the codename "M".


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