Dag Kittlaus wants you to imagine buying a consumer electronic device in the near future. You take it out the box, plug it into the wall, unlock it with a biometric thumbprint, and then the device comes to life. "Hi, nice to meet you," it says, before walking you through its setup via natural conversation.
That scenario isn't too far away, according to Kittlaus, who used today's TechCrunch Disrupt in Brooklyn as part of a coming-out-party for Viv, a new voice-activated digital assistant. After three round of venture capital (VC) funding and more than a year in development, Viv is ready for primetime.
Viv is an artificial intelligence (AI) platform that gives developers and hardware makers the ability to imbue any product or interface with a conversational user interface (UI). It's AI that talks to you, but not in quite the same way as the machine-learning bots we're beginning to see in chat interfaces from Facebook, Microsoft, and others. It's less about intuitively surfacing relevant search results or product suggestions, and more about actually having a conversation with an app or device where the device is essentially thinking for itself.
What went unsaid at Disrupt is that Viv is positioning itself as the next evolution of personal assistants like Cortana, Google Now, and yes, Siri. Kittlaus knows a thing or two about that; he's the co-founder and former CEO of Siri, which Apple acquired for more than $200 million in 2010.
The biggest benefit of the AI explosion is convenience for everyday users, he says.
"AI will make mundane tasks easier to do, and approach user experience in a more personalized way. When you ask your app or device for something, you won't have to explain every bit of detail each time. It starts to know you," said Kittlaus. "Conversations are a natural way to interact with humans, and conversational UIs are just a more natural way to interact with your technology."
Viv writes its own code.
Kittlaus said the start-up will partner with manufacturers to get Viv up and running in embedded devices, along with giving developers the ability to integrate Viv into their mobile app or software through Viv-as-a-Platform. He gave the first-ever Viv demo (below), asking Viv in different variations of natural language about the weather in several locations on various days, booking a hotel room, paying a friend back through Venmo, and sending flower arrangements for Mother's Day.
During the demo of Viv's developer center, Kittlaus explained how developers can teach Viv new concepts and intents and watch its speech recognition improve over time. What makes Viv's AI truly unique, though, is a patented computer science breakthrough called dynamic program generation -- it's software that writes itself.
"We've had a breakthrough with Viv in the way programmers work with computers. They're no longer required to teach machines step by step and code every single line," said Kittlaus. "Instead, you're describing what you want the system to do and modeling it, and the computer does the rest."
"Our goal is ubiquity," said Kittlaus. "If Viv's conversational UI became the de facto interface for everything you do, that radically simplifies the tech norm."This is where Viv stands apart from other digital assistants, and even from other natural-language processing and machine-learning platforms like IBM Watson. In 10 milliseconds, Viv can write a 44-step program figuring out the context around a query. All that dynamic code generation in the background makes for a faster, more natural conversational UI.
The TechCrunch Disrupt moderator ended by asking whether Viv and other advances in AI will may spell the end for the human race, as tech leaders like Stephen Hawking, Bill Gates, Elon Musk, and others have predicted. Kittlaus is skeptical. "I don't think this is the beginning of the end quite yet," he responded.