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Bixby might be our new BFF but will the friendship last?

by Eve Tyler | 12.04.2017
A few weeks ago, Samsung introduced us to Bixby, an AI system making its debut in the new Galaxy S8. It’s being touted as the latest in virtual assistant software, and can do everything from taking a selfie to displaying a video on TV. Although Bixby’s only officially about two weeks old, it (she? He?) is already making waves in the tech world. Strongly integrated with the S8, Bixby’s is supposedly more contextually aware, able to interpret natural speech more accurately and can complete more actions across a range of devices.

Having a cool digital sidekick is almost expected at this point: Apple has Siri, Microsoft has Cortana, Google has Google Assistant, Amazon has Alexa and now Samsung has Bixby. We’ve certainly come a long way from taunting Siri with expletives for fun to relying on these intuitive systems for a genuinely convenient, hands-free life. However, our collective uneasiness when it comes to artificial intelligence lingers: are Siri and friends a fad we’ll grow wary of or are they the new norm?

All signs point to something more lasting than a fad. Chatbot technology dates back to 1966 when Joseph Weizenbaum created ELIZA at MIT. ELIZA, named after the famous character from My Fair Lady, simulates a Rogerian therapist, responding based on simple keywords and pattern recognition. Although it seems pretty dated now, ELIZA was so good at simulating human conversation that Weizenbaum’s secretary told ELIZA her personal secrets, held lengthy (if not somewhat circular) conversations with her and even shouted at her out of sheer annoyance – all very human interactions.

Although the capabilities of this technology have developed significantly since ELIZA, the way we interact with it remains somewhat the same: it’s clear we expect more than task management from our AI systems. The most popular review of Alexa on Amazon is titled ‘Alexa, my love. Thy name is inflexible, but thou art otherwise a nearly perfect spouse’ and reads more like a love letter than a product review. A recent study found that 1 in 4 voice tech users have even had a sexual fantasy about their digital assistant, and 37% are so taken with their voice assistant that they wish it were a real person.

We want comfort, intimacy and a ‘real’ connection from something inherently artificial; that much has always remained. We’re growing more comfortable with this presence in our daily tasks and purchasing decisions, but will we have the same feelings towards our digital assistants when they start to acting without us?

Image source: Flickr Creative Commons