IBM Unveils Watson AI Assistant for Businesses

IBM Unveils Watson AI Assistant for Businesses

Watson Assistant, the latest entry into the AI-powered virtual assistant market, made its debut on Tuesday at IBM’s Think conference in Las Vegas, CNET’s Ben Fox Rubin reports. Unlike Amazon’s consumer-focused Alexa, however, Watson Assistant is an enterprise-oriented technology that “will function as the behind-the-scenes brains for a variety of new digital helpers made by a variety of businesses”:

For example, Watson Assistant is already in use at Munich Airport to power a robot that can tell you directions and gate information. The assistant is in development by BMW for an in-car voice helper. Also, Chameleon Technology in the UK created a Watson Assistant-driven platform called I-VIE that helps people manage their energy usage.

“We looked at the market for assistants and realized there was something else needed to make it easier for companies to use,” said Bret Greenstein, IBM’s global vice president for IoT products. …

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Amazon’s Alexa Is Ready for Work

Amazon’s Alexa Is Ready for Work

Last November, Amazon announced that it was bringing its voice-controlled assistant Alexa into the workplace, launching Alexa for Business at its its annual AWS re:Invent conference. This week, the company revealed how far the enterprise version of Alexa has come, who is using it, and how the product is being applied in business settings. Amazon Chief Technology Officer Werner Vogels expanded on these points in a post on his blog, All Things Distributed:

Voice interfaces are a paradigm shift, and we’ve worked to remove the heavy lifting associated with integrating Alexa voice capabilities into more devices. For example, Alexa Voice Service (AVS), a cloud-based service that provides APIs to interface with Alexa, enables products built using AVS to have access to Alexa capabilities and skills.

We’re also making it easy to build skills for the things you want to do. This is where the Alexa Skills Kit and the Alexa Skills Store can help both companies and developers. Some organizations may want to control who has access to the skills that they build. In those cases, Alexa for Business allows people to create a private skill that can only be accessed by employees in your organization. In just a few months, our customers have built hundreds of private skills that help voice-enabled employees do everything from getting internal news briefings to asking what time their help desk closes.

Alexa for Business is now capable of interfacing with common enterprise applications like Salesforce, Concur, and ServiceNow, Vogels added, while IT developers can use the Alexa Skills Kit to enable custom apps as well. WeWork, one early adopter of the service, has “built private skills for Alexa that employees can use to reserve conference rooms, file help tickets for their community management team, and get important information on the status of meeting rooms.”

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Tech Giants Step up Competition in Voice-Activated Enterprise Tech

Tech Giants Step up Competition in Voice-Activated Enterprise Tech

Last year saw a sharp rise in investment in AI-driven voice-command technology for workplace use, with Amazon’s Alexa and Microsoft’s Cortana beginning to take on enterprise roles, amid growing investments by these companies in AI. Based on how heavily voice-activated tools were promoted at last week’s Consumer Electronics Show (CES 2018), this year will see Google, Facebook, Samsung, Apple, and Cisco make moves in that market as well.

Fast Company’s Mark Sullivan pronounced Amazon the “winner” of CES before it even began, noting the omnipresence of the Alexa virtual assistant in everything from speakers to smart mirrors and automobiles. Sullivan noted an eMarketer survey which said that 45.4 million Americans will be using an AI assistant this year, 68 percent of whom will be using Alexa. HP, Acer, Asus, and Lenovo all launched Windows 10 PCs with two virtual assistants, Alexa and Microsoft’s notably less popular Cortana, but at this moment, it appears Alexa has the strongest foothold in the enterprise market.

“As we begin 2018, Alexa shows the strongest partner ecosystem — with the most hardware partners and the most skills — and an increasing presence in the office with Alexa for Business,” Forrester vice president and principal analyst J.P. Gownder told Computerworld.

Sullivan noted that Google made its presence felt at CES as well, but they did it with aggressively placed ads on buildings and public transportation. Still, Google Assistant is not far behind Alexa and has some built-in advantages. Amazon was the first to launch such a product, releasing Alexa in 2014, but Google has a wealth of institutional knowledge in the AI space and also has the widely-used Android mobile platform to drive adoption and streamlined integration of Google Assistant. So far, Assistant is on touchscreen-enabled devices by Sony, JBL, and Lenovo, and also slated to go into LG and GE appliances, in addition to cars through the Android Auto offering, according to VentureBeat.

Microsoft’s Cortana has a chance to succeed in the workplace market thanks to its presence through Office 365 and LinkedIn, but will have a long way to go if it hopes to supplant Google and Amazon. Another new entrant, Cisco, has an advantage with its new voice-activated technology thanks to its well-established enterprise communication infrastructure. Apple’s Siri is another notable competitor but would need a big push to make gains in the enterprise adoption of its computers and phones to penetrate the workplace market.

Amazon Is Bringing Alexa to the Workplace

Amazon Is Bringing Alexa to the Workplace

Voice-activated technology is one of the new frontiers in how people are interacting with technology. Google, Apple, and Microsoft have all developed voice-command assistants and have begun incorporating them into their enterprise software offerings. This week, Amazon joined the club, announcing the introduction of Alexa for Business at its annual AWS re:Invent conference.

The first rumblings of Amazon’s expansion of the popular voice-activated home assistant came in August, when the Seattle-based giant began posting job listings for a “new AWS/Alexa service” that would be “part of a growing family of SaaS offerings from AWS such as Amazon Chime, Amazon WorkSpaces, and Amazon WorkDocs.” Jay Greene and Laura Stevens of the Wall Street Journal report that the company has added hundreds of engineers to the Alexa team and is giving this initiative preference in hiring in order to keep up with the other tech titans in this highly competitive emerging market.

The technology will allow employees to book conference rooms, start presentations, make calls, join teleconferences, turn lights on or off, obtain Salesforce information, and more. CNBC obtained a list of the break-out sessions at the re:Invent conference showcasing the Alexa for Business offering:

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Get Ready for Voice-Activated Tools in the Workplace

Get Ready for Voice-Activated Tools in the Workplace

It’s time for Siri to get to work. Voice-command technology has already entered the workplace in the form of a benefits assistant, while one major tech company is betting that it can improve enterprise collaboration as well.

Emma is a voice-command app built by healthcare provider Alegeus which helps employees with their benefit plans. The service will take the place of a call center or help desk and is programmed to answer 100 questions on topics such as flexible spending accounts, health savings accounts, and other tax-advantaged benefits.

“There’s such a glaring obvious need for people to get easy and accurate information when they need it in a convenient way,” John Young, Alegeus’ senior vice president, consumerism and strategy, told Amanda Eisenberg of Employee Benefit News last week. “Consumers have questions but people don’t often seek the answers because they’re not easily available… what Emma solves is that instant resource for normal people.”

For those concerned with the privacy issues that may arise, the app will have a multi-layered authentication and authorization framework to maintain high levels of data security. Alegeus will not disclose how many clients are using Emma, but claims there was “considerable interest” before it launched.

Amazon, best known as an online retailer, also happens to be the largest cloud services provider in the world, and is looking to tweak its Alexa technology to speed up communication and information sharing in the office. Though the Seattle-based giant has been tight-lipped about the details of its plans, it has posted job listings around a “New AWS/Alexa Service” that offer some clues:

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