Will AI help us free up more time?

Everyone thinks they need more help. Busy days and a desire to pack as much into life as possible can leave people searching for extra time in the day. The emergence of the virtual assistants might just help provide this.

This will all sound pretty familiar to adept users of everything from note applications, web chat services, or even Skype, but as the development of artificial intelligence (AI) expands potential uses, some applications are learning to think for themselves.

It’s this ability to predict the wants and needs of the user that will set the most successful services or software apart. Tech companies including Apple, Facebook, Google and Microsoft have all made significant investments in proprietary virtual assistants, with mixed success. Some, like Apple’s Siri, are aimed at instigating other software through voice command, others, such as Google’s Now, point to information from third parties that users may need or find useful.

However the technology continues to develop, the level of interest in it points to the income potential developers suspect it could support: imagine the price companies may pay to be the first thing suggested. As Facebook rolls out tests of its own service, called ‘M’ and being developed as part of its stand alone Messenger app, the company is hoping it will be able to find information and complete tasks on a users behalf.

While the Facebook offering is powered by AI, it has the added bonus of being trained and supervised by real live people. This may speed its development and ultimately help fine-tune its usefulness. But it also points to a key challenge in making AI consumer friendly: getting it to think like a person.

Much of the pitch for these services is reducing the time people have to spend on simple mundane tasks. That sounds great, but all are still some way from doing more than preempting a web search and providing some novelty value.