However, questionable words are crowd-sourced by reCAPTCHA. When you use reCAPTCHA, one word is there to test your humanity, and other is there as a small, unpaid job you’re doing for Google. If a large majority of users agree on what the scanned word is, the OCR system integrates that knowledge into the text from the scanned book. It’s pure genius.
If you think about it, the reCAPTCHA system isn’t all that different from how Google improves Search algorithms. They evaluate which links people click on after searching, and also how long it takes people to click. From this and other data, they judge their own results and can make tweaks in their algorithms to improve the quality of search.
Now imagine this crowd-sourced learning ability applied to a virtual assistant. Google will apply knowledge gained by millions of users to understand any accent, or to take the proper action when users request something.
For example, let’s say ten thousand users ask their A.I. assistant “What’s up?” and after getting the wrong response, get more specific and say something like: “Please tell me what’s important in my email and calendar.” It’s easy to imagine Google’s algorithm quickly learning that when most people say “What’s up?,” they really want priority email and appointments.
Over time, and across millions of such interactions, you can see Google’s A.I. system improving constantly. Their system will evolve, until you can just talk to your virtual assistant like you would a real one, and it will understand everything you say.
In addition to having better data than Apple, and better engineering around learning and predicting from massive data sets, Google also owns more services useful to A.I. interaction.
Take Google Translate, for example. You could say to your Google personal assistant: “Translate for me between English and French.” You could then have a conversation with a French-speaking person, with your phone as interpreter.
This exists now, for the most part, but with A.I. thrown into the mix, the phone could retrieve cultural references for you in the same way that a human translator might: Question - “What’s that French word for Gypsies that also starts with G?” Answer - “I think you mean ‘Gitans.’”
In other words, it will not only translate directly, but also facilitate meaningful conversations, rather than merely helping you find a bathroom.
In fact, the services that Google’s A.I. will be able to conjure up borders on the spectacular: Google Earth, Latitude and Maps; Google News and Reader; Google Wallet, Checkout and Shopping; Google+; Google Alerts; Google Image Search; Google Books and Scholar, for crying out loud; Google Trends; and many others.
Ultimately the best A.I. virtual assistant is the one that knows everything, both personal and general, and can do anything.
Presently, Apple has to license and partner for knowledge services like Wolfram-Alpha and Wikipedia, and for agency services like Open Table. But anything Apple can rent, Google can rent, too.
In addition, Google actually owns the worlds best sources of knowledge, both personal and general, and also services that let your assistant buy things, communicate with people and generally act in the world on your behalf.
For now, the world of virtual assistant A.I. belongs to Apple and Siri. But don’t get use to it. Eventually, Apple will prove no match for Google’s unbeatable resources in this field.
But don’t worry, fanboys. Google’s A.I. will probably work on your iPhone, too.