Apple's Siri voice-recognizing intelligent agent has been one of the key drivers of iPhone 4S sales, and the industry expects Siri to begin showing up in other products from the company. Now, Google has taken another step toward its own intelligent agent for Android devices, with the purchase of Clever Sense, a company that makes the Alfred personal assistant.
Deal terms have not been made public. Alfred is a personal recommendation agent for restaurants, bars and clubs, available for both iOS and Android. He provides curated recommendations consistent with the user's interests, physical location and current activity. The app learns over time, based on the user's ratings of his suggestions and additional data.
Clever Sense Platform
Alfred uses the Clever Sense Platform, which the company describes as curating "the real world by harvesting and sifting through the vast amount of information on the Web," and then making in-context recommendations, based on time, place, and intent.
The company said the platform consists of two engines, the Extraction Engine and the Serendipity Engine.
The Extraction Engine leverages natural language processing, statistical machine learning, and data mining algorithms to process large amounts of unstructured, crawled data. This engine learns concepts about physical items in the real world, which become the basis for the Interest Graph, and social interactions like check-ins, likes, and ratings are used to enhance and to determine similarities in the Graph.
The Serendipity Engine uses real-time machine learning algorithms and intelligent agent architecture to incorporate a user's anonymous interest profile and contextual factors, such as time, location, intent, or social context, in conjunction with the Graph. This, the company said, helps to determine a user's interests and preferences based on the user's choices in the app, as well as interests indicated via Facebook or Twitter. Clever Sense said that the interest data is anonymous, to ensure privacy.
'Way a Person Talks To a Person'
Alfred has some natural-language recognition ability, but does not have Siri's facility with language, nor can Alfred respond in a virtual conversation. Alfred is also a standalone app, while Siri is integrated with the 4S's address book, calendar and data from other iPhone apps.
While Alfred is designed primarily for bars, restaurants and clubs, the Silicon Valley-based operation, which now becomes part of Google's local services division, has much bigger targets in mind. One possible enhancement is to make recommendations on deals, such as those from Groupon and Living Social. Future targets also include entertainment and other kinds of local activities.
Brad Shimmin, an analyst with industry research firm Current Analysis, said the Google acquisition marks another step in reaching a state of interaction with devices that "approximates the way a person talks to a person." This involves intelligent, context-based responses as well as natural-language interaction, he said, adding that he expected Google to integrate more complete language interaction with the Clever Sense platform into "a Siri-like interface."