Startups Challenge Big Tech’s Hold on AI Personal Assistants
Tightly focused apps that use AI will have to overcome the "good-enough" solutions that come baked in.

Designing intelligent personal assistants isn’t just a game for tech-sector titans anymore.

As The Verge reports, API, open-source tools and the ability to rent computing power are making it possible for more and more startups to leverage academic and industry developments — like natural language processing — to make apps tightly focused on a particular task. is a startup based in New York City that’s raised almost US$35 million since starting in 2014. It makes a scheduling assistant, Amy Ingram. When ‘she’ is copied on an email, the software coordinates a meeting day and time.

EasilyDo, another AI-assistant startup, is specifically tailored to help with travel — an area already dominated by Apple’s Wallet and Gmail.

EasilyDo says its solution recognizes more travel companies than its biggest competitors, leading The Verge to ponder, “Does it matter if a startup is marginally better than Google or anyone else in a domain, when the bigger player is good enough?”

That question hasn’t stopped Viv, a startup founded by Dag Kittlaus, the maker of Siri. Viv’s AI can write its own programs, instead of relying on human coding. Kittlaus calls it a breakthrough in computer science: “It’s going to change the way programmers work with computers.”

Whether downloaded apps can replace baked-in personal assistants remains to be seen.

One thing’s for certain, though. As screen fatigue grows and more people seek out other ways of interacting with technology, intelligent personal assistants — whether it’s just a voice inside your smartphone or an actual robot — will be the future.