‘How do I control the lights?’ is my first, rage-infused question when staying in almost any hotel room. Closely followed by ‘how do I shut off the air conditioning?’ As yet, both questions have gone unanswered. Walls, alas, cannot talk, so I am left to fiddle with the plastic key thing that for some reason also operates the room’s electricity, put on an extra layer or six, and grope around in the dark.
My ineptitude in the realm of all things practical isn’t confined to hotel rooms. I’d also like to be able to schedule car maintenance as and when the bleeping thing on the dashboard lets me know something’s up. Or find out what the weather’s going to do later. Or get directions to the nearest pharmacy. I also can’t work my Dad’s TV, because there are six remote controls that do all manner of fancy things and no labels identifying the button functions.
Maybe I need a PA.
The brave new world of digital PAs
Recognizing that most people need a helping hand now and again and aren’t necessarily equipped to understand complex bits of digital kit, the connected world has brought us voice-activated personal assistants. Siri, Alexa, Cortana – all are equipped with the ability to understand speech, answer questions and respond to simple commands.
Marvellous. However. Voice-driven assistants such as these aren’t truly personal, in that they don’t proactively adapt their service to suit one specific user. As a user of things, I’m much like Miranda Priestly of ‘The Devil Wears Prada’ fame. Demanding. Inconsistent. Impatient. I want a digital PA in the league of Andrea Sachs – one that gets to know me, anticipates my whims, and solves problems before I even know they exist.
A truly personal assistant
This level of truly personalized assistance is what IBM’s Watson Personal Assistant (WPA for short) aims to provide. The WPA, which was unveiled in June, learns about its users through interacting with them and creates a cognitive profile that it updates as it discovers more.
It also understands context, meaning that it can offer sensible answers to potentially vague questions. For example, if I’m a guest in a hotel and ask: ‘When’s breakfast?’ it can delve into its knowledge of the hotel’s working systems and tell me it’s available between 7 and 10. Anticipating the reasoning behind the question based on its contextual understanding, it won’t tell me that breakfast is the morning meal one consumes prior to lunch.
The Watson Personal Assistant in context
Of course, it’s not only customers that have needs. Businesses have them too. If you’re a hotel manager (for instance) you’ll have your own ‘how to’ list: ‘How do I offer my customers personalized concierge services?’ ‘How can I learn more about my customers?’ ‘What do my customers really want?’
Here too, the WPA’s got your back. Uniquely, this is the only solution that allows enterprise clients to keep and control the data collected by the WPA in the course of its daily functioning. It also integrates with existing back-end systems (so that it adapts to your way of doing things) and can be embedded into multiple products, devices or services.
Here comes the WPA 0.6
Since its unveiling in June, WPA has been going through a series of updates to refine its performance. Version 0.6 landed last week, and is currently flexing its muscles in the hotel and automotive spheres, so you might come across one when you stay at a major hotel chain, or even in your next car.
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