How Nuance is Building a Digital Persona That Loves You
A man falls in love with his digital assistant. It's not just the premise of a new movie.
Tue, August 20, 2013
PC World — "I want to learn everything about everything," Scarlett Johansson murmurs.
Those aren't the words of an ambitious Hollywood actress. They're spoken by "Samantha," the world's "first intelligent operating system." With nothing more than language, curiosity, and a zest for virtual life, Samantha entices her shy, awkward owner to fall in love.
Ridiculous? Not in the mind of Spike Jonze, who wrote Her, a movie opening this November and starring Johansson and Joaquin Phoenix. Completely coincidentally, forging emotional bonds with users is key to the strategy that Nuance Communications is employing to compete with Apple's Siri and Google's Google Now, today's dominant digital assistants.
Apple, Google, Nuance, and other companies envision a service that "knows" the weather, your calendar, traffic conditions, and other information, and can deliver it to you across your phone, your computer, your TV, and eventually your car. At Apple and Google, the approach has focused on data: contributing it, collecting it, and collating it.
But at Nuance, they're flipping that argument on its head. Data can wait. It's the relationship that needs to be forged first. While Apple and Google are attempting to create intelligent agents, Nuance is aiming to build an intelligent persona. Its emphasis is on "person," and the technology is powered by the speech-recognition and natural-language tools that Nuance has bought or developed over the years.
"For me to be in the car, listening to the 49ers game, it's halftime, I arrive home, I tell my TV to 'put on the game'--that shouldn't be that big of a deal," says Gary Clayton, the chief creative officer at speech pioneer TellMe Networks, who holds the same position at Nuance. "This notion [of] where theA intelligenceA comes from: It's a system we can interact with in a conversational way. Because once you start interacting with the system in a conversational way, there's almost an understanding that there's a sentient being on the other end of the conversation. And the closer you can get to that point, the deeper the faith, and the stronger the relationship."
It's a rather granola concept for Silicon Valley, and, to be honest, I didn't get it at first. Google, with its army of Google Street View cars, Android phones, and Chrome browsers, has established that data rules--and if you don't have it, you're doomed to fail. That's not a position that Nuance necessarily disagrees with. It just doesn't believe that it has to master the data space itself.