Smart tech producing a 'Star Trek' world

Android robot Kodomoroid speaks during a press event at the National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation Miraikan in Tokyo. (Shizuo Kambayashi, AP)
Android robot Kodomoroid speaks during a press event at the National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation Miraikan in Tokyo. (Shizuo Kambayashi, AP)

Cape Town – Smart technologies are pushing society to a futuristic world where software will not only understand your needs, but actively learn your behaviour patterns, according to a research organisation.

“We’ll eventually get to the world – Star Trek like – where you say: ‘Computer I need to order more toothpaste and it will magically go off and get the best price from your preferred suppliers and order that on your behalf,’” Brian Burke, Gartner analyst specialising in enterprise architecture told Fin24.

Burke was speaking on the side-lines of the Gartner Symposium underway in Cape Town on Tuesday.

He argued that the area of learning machines, such as digital personal assistants, will increase exponentially in ability to be more useful to consumers.

“Virtual personal assistants, I think is one of the most exciting areas that is evolving. Things like Siri, Cortana, and Google Now, which are really dumb right now, but getting much smarter,” Burke said.

Natural language

While assistant applications are being refined by tech giants Apple, Google and Microsoft, there are many technological challenges in mass adoption.

Gartner foresees an immersive environment where personal assistants will manage applications such as mail and calendar autonomously.

“Instead of you directly interacting with applications, your virtual personal assistant will interact with applications on your behalf. They’ll be doing things like going to Amazon and ordering whatever you want,” said Burke.

At the industry level, he predicted learning machines would build on the work done by Watson, the IBM supercomputer.

“A smart advisor is likely a learning machine that is learning a specific topic and advising people on, for example, Watson is learning about a specific type of cancer and making recommendations to doctors on what is the most appropriate treatment scheme.”

Businesses will also adapt their technologies to employ virtual call centre agents that will respond directly to customer queries in natural language, rather than current private automatic branch exchange (PABX) systems.

“The best of them can understand natural language, provide a response and will learn over time. You’ll actually be talking to a machine which will be able to understand what your question is, provide a result. If it can’t provide a result or an answer, it will look through the company’s databases to see if an answer exists,” Burke said.

He argued that technology might ultimately produce machines very much like people.

“What we’re moving toward is machines that are adaptive, insightful and even curious.”

Watch this video on how to train Microsoft’s Cortana digital assistant:

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