“Alexa, can you help me with my…NPI?”

They’re all here to help you—virtually!

In the battle of the Virtual Assistants (VA), it seems like everything else, there are too many choices. Alexa, SIRI, Google Assistant, and Cortana are practically household names at this point. While each has their particular set of benefits, no one AI (i.e. Artificial Intelligence, because that’s what we’re really talking about here) can fulfill every request made of it.

With next year’s pending launch of my company’s (PTC) flagship PLM platform, Windchill (integrated with Microsoft Azure’s cloud solution)—facilitating manufacturers’ efforts to rollout NPIs (i.e. new product introductions)—I thought it would be interesting to explore some aspects of where VAs/AIs are these days in a practical sense from home to business.

I’d venture to guess that most homes feature more than one VA. The Digtal Batman household runs both SIRI on our iPhones/iPod and AppleTV 4K, and we run an Echo Dot featuring Alexa. It’s interesting to note the significant differences for our needs. For example: Alexa comes in handy when playing music from Amazon Music Unlimited and radio broadcasts over IHeartRadio. Whereas, SIRI dials our phone numbers, reads our texts, provides us with navigation, and helps us search/navigate our Apple TV 4K streaming device.

Conversely, like most PTC employees running Windows 10 on their laptops, Cortana can easily be enabled. But I think it would be a little weird if everyone in the open seating at Seaport HQ started talking into their computers all at once!

Though I haven’t used “Okay Google” in a while, it does come in handy for general searches and navigating the plethora of online/cloud‐based productivity, calendar, and meeting tools available—especially if you’re using Google Chrome.

And what’s really interesting is now each of these separate VA platforms are starting to work together: organizing calendars across different devices (like cell phones), providing email from multiple addresses, offering interactive maps and navigation, smart homes management tools, and lots of business services like remote access to a company’s VPN, just to name a few. They are only going to get even more interconnected like the world of IoT (i.e. the Internet of Things).

If we’re not careful, these AI-driven VAs might bring us SkyNet—and we definitely don’t want that ostensible convenience! LOL!

Here are some fun facts about the VAs:

The oldest of these systems (the one that was in development first) is of course SIRI. Back in 2005 there were three actors, Susan Bennett (American), Jon Briggs (British), and Karen Jacobson (Australian) who recorded their voice tracks not knowing that those recordings would be used for the eventual release of SIRI on the iPhone 4S!

Another fun fact is that voice actress Jen Taylor is the voice behind Cortana. She is also the voice behind the Cortana character in Microsoft’s HALO video game franchise.

Alexa was inspired by the computer voice and conversational system on board the Starship Enterprise in science fiction TV series and movies, beginning with Star Trek: The Original Series and Star Trek: The Next Generation.

Google assigned Google Doodle leader Ryan Germick and hired former Pixar animator Emma Coats to develop “a little more of a personality” for Google Assistant.

With the coming integration of AI into Creo 7 (PTC’s flagship CAD software), it probably won’t be long before our genius engineers figure out a way to power Windchill with a VA/AI that will be all the rage at a future LiveWorx.

Perhaps, it could be a holographic avatar called WINDI—short for Windchill Interactive Networked Digital Intersect.

Watch SIRI in action!
Watch Alexa in action!
Watch Google Assistant in action!
Watch Cortana in action!

BONUS: Interviewing all four VAs, what do they think about each other!