Wednesday, December 14, 2011

[PC Magazine] Can Google Compete Against Siri With Alfred?

by Chloe Albanesius @ PC Magazine

Google on Tuesday added to its acquisition arsenal with a company whose technology might take on Apple's Siri voice assistant.

The search giant purchased CleverSense, which developed Alfred, an app the company has designated as "your personal robot."

And while you can't speak to Alfred like you can with Siri, the app provides recommendations on restaurants, bars, coffee shops, and clubs based on your preferences, location, and other factors, eventually "learning" what you like over time.

"We built Alfred to create a simple, enjoyable, and powerful way to discover new places and help make decisions on the go," Babak Pahlavan, CleverSense co-founder and CEO, said in a note on its Web site. "It's exciting to see that our passion turned into something people around the world use regularly to make everyday decisions that are just right for them."

With Google, CleverSense said it will "start a new chapter in curating the world around us [and] accelerate our efforts toward this shared vision."

"Discovering local information is extremely important to both users and businesses, and the acquisition of Clever Sense will benefit both," Pahlavan continued.

Pahlavan didn't discuss the future of Alfred; the app is still available in the App Store and Android Market.

I downloaded the iOS app, and after agreeing to share my location, Alfred asked me to teach him about my favorite places for dinner, lunch, and drinks, offering up similar places in the area. For quick hits, I chose the "ideas" tab for popular locations in my neighborhood. But I could specify restaurants that were similar to a specific place, that served certain food, had specific prices, or met other requirements. There was also the option to connect to Facebook, where Alfred said he would "tune my recommendations to match everyone's tastes."

On its Web site, CleverSense said Alfred utilizes "extraction" and "serendipity" engines. The extraction engine trolls the Web and curates data via "natural language processing, statistical machine learning, and data mining algorithms." That creates an interest graph that is enhanced by social interactions like check-ins, likes, and ratings. The serendipity engine then incorporates a user's interests and context like location and intent to make it recommendations.

"The Serendipity Engine learns about the user's interests and preferences based on the user's interactions with various sources, including Clever Sense apps, Facebook, and Twitter," CleverSense said. "The user's interest data are stored anonymously and separate from any personally identifiable information, in order to ensure complete protection of privacy."

Apple's Siri is voice-activated and built into the iPhone 4S. But like Alfred, it improves the more people use it. Siri is collecting data from users, like their regional accents and dialects and common phrases that people use, and analyzing that information to improve. Additionally, the more you specifically use it, the better it understands your particular accent and characteristics of your speech.

For more, see Siri is Dumb. There, We Said It. PDF version

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