by Jenny Medeiros on May 21, 2018

What Google, Amazon, and Microsoft Are Doing to Create The Most Conversational AI


Google caused quite the stir in the AI community at the I/O Developer Conference when they unveiled Google Duplex. Some call it “an exciting step for Artificial Intelligence”, while others consider it a “terrifying piece of technology”.

Google Duplex

Whatever your stance on it, there’s no denying that Google Duplex gives us a sneak peak of what’s ahead for conversational AI. Except Google isn’t the only company taking strides in this area. Microsoft and Amazon are also stepping on each other’s heels to get ahead.

Let’s see what they’ve all been up to lately.

Google Assistant gets a Duplex upgrade

If you’re not quite in the AI loop yet, here’s a summary of what went down at the Google I/O 2018: Google Duplex was revealed as the latest in AI technology that enables Google Assistant to make business calls on your behalf. These calls are currently limited to the realm of scheduling appointments and making reservations, but it’s still groundbreaking tech which has left many with “Whoa, I didn’t know AI could do that!” kind of reactions.

So what’s with all the AI-domination-is-here tweets and frantic blog posts about Google Duplex? Well, the thing with this particular AI technology is that it sounds a bit “too human”. At the conference, where Google Assistant called a hair salon to make a hair appointment, it was almost impossible to tell who was the human and who wasn’t! Google Duplex never got confused (even when the receptionist asked multiple questions at once), it used filler words like “mm-hmm”, “uh”, and “um”, and was able to match the receptionist’s voice pattern and pace of conversation. It made the audience gasp in surprise, laugh at the realism, and then go home wondering if this was all maybe a little too human-like.

A day later, Google attempted to comfort us all by announcing their Assistant would identify itself as AI to the unsuspecting human on the other end of the call.

Microsoft Cortana is becoming a business assistant

At their Microsoft Build 2018 developer conference, the tech giant unveiled their own vision for future AI technology. During a demo, Cortana was shown greeting each attendee at a meeting as they sat down. She also transcribed what was said into a Word document and even chimed in with helpful information and important meeting highlights.

While Cortana’s conversational abilities weren’t as smooth as Google Duplex’s, it’s still a major step for the use of AI in a business setting. Plus, Microsoft also announced a Cortana-Alexa integration, meaning users will be able to say, “Alexa, open Cortana.” Microsoft says they want Cortana to be a business-centric voice people can call upon from their smart devices. 

Kudos to Microsoft for giving their Assistant a specific focus, instead of just trying to outdo Google and Amazon in the race for the most mainstream AI bot. 

Amazon is offering the “Alexa Prize” for the best AI technology

Amazon hasn’t exactly been twiddling its thumbs while Google and Microsoft battle it out in the conversational AI arena. While Amazon still currently enjoys owning over 70% of the smart speaker market share, it’s also pushing developers to make Alexa the one bot to rule them all.

One such push is the “Alexa Prize”, an Amazon-funded student competition where eight university teams have been tasked with creating the most conversational AI system for Alexa. One of these teams hails from the Brigham Young University, and they’re placing their bets on their own AI system called Emotive Adversarial Ensemble, or EVE.

EVE uses machine learning to interpret and express emotion, which may be just the thing Alexa needs. The Brigham team will be talking all about EVE and their vision for conversational AIs at VOICE this July. It would be a real shame for you to miss it. Register here and we’ll see you there!

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Jenny Medeiros

Jenny is an engineer by degree turned writer by trade. She spent her first years working with Virtual Reality in South America before moving onto UX-focused Web Design and Development in Washington D.C. Now as a serial remote worker, she partners with tech-savvy companies to create content that helps people and computers understand each other better. In her spare time, she hangs with Netflix and often asks Alexa how to fold a fitted sheet.