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Talking Paperclip Inspires Less Irksome Virtual Assistant

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cognitive assistant

The CALO project's biggest priority is to make an assistant that can learn "in the wild" and that is genuinely useful, says SRI International's Raymond Perrault.

Credit: DARPA

The U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has spent an estimated $150 million developing an artificially intelligent (AI) virtual assistant. DARPA's virtual helper was created to ease the U.S. military's bureaucratic load. The project must overcome memories of Clippy, the annoying animated paperclip that Microsoft dropped as a virtual assistant two years ago. The technology behind DARPA's project could soon be available to civilians.

Launched in 2003, the Cognitive Assistant that Learns and Organizes (CALO) project involved more than 60 university and research organizations in the largest ever, non-classified AI project. The project, which ends on July 31, has produced a virtual assistant capable of sorting, prioritizing, and summarizing emails, automatically scheduling meetings, and preparing briefing notes for meetings.

Raymond Perrault of SRI International, an independent research organization in charge of the project, says the biggest priority was making CALO capable of "learning in the wild," and making it a genuinely useful assistant. Most software capable of learning requires many examples, but CALO needed to be quicker to be useful so developers have built in technology such as "transfer learning," which applies lessons from one domain to another.

A spin-off of the project, an app called Siri, will become available on the iPhone later this year to help with mundane tasks such as checking online reviews to find a good restaurant and make a reservation. Users will be able to give Siri verbal instructions and the app will use various Web services to fulfill the request.

From New Scientist
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