Microsoft’s Eric Horvitz talks about AI, common sense and desiring your persona assistant

In the above video, speaking to the BBC, Microsoft Research Managing Director Eric Horvitz explains some of the challenges artificial intelligence researchers face in creating useful personal assistants.

"The ability of a system to understand more broadly what the overall context of a communication is turns out to be very important," he told the BBC.

His choice of words is interesting, as Windows Phone has long been expected to feature a Context Engine, a word which has also popped up recently in connection with the FourSquare investment, which is meant to provide data to Microsoft’s rumoured Cortana personal assistant.

"There are some critical signals in context. These include location, time of day, day of week, user patterns of behaviour, current modality – are you driving, are you walking, are you sitting, are you in your office. Are you in a place you are familiar with versus one you are not?

"A person’s calendar can be a very rich source of context, as is their email."

In the video he notes that AI systems should have a touch of personality, and he goes on to say "It turns out that conversation is more or less like a very, very complex tango – a dance between two people.”

"[It] involves not just a simple turn-taking, like you might see in today’s assistants on cellphones, for example.”

"It’s actually a very complicated, fluid operation where people are breaking in and starting over again and reflecting and listening, all at the same time sometimes."

Horvitz notes that while voice assistants may sound real, users should not fall in love with them.

"When I come in the morning my [AI] assistant on my door recognises me and in a very nice British voice says: ‘Good morning Eric’ – and I enjoy it even though I know it’s artificial," says Mr Horvitz.

"So, I do think that we will be able to come up with very compelling personalities.

"However, unlike the kinds of things we see in the movies, for many years to come there probably won’t be anybody home in the way people would expect or desire."

Read more at the BBC here.

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