Viv, From the Creators of Siri, Isn't Just Another Digital Assistant

Viv isn't competing with the current lineup of virtual digital assistants. The self-coding software is instead striving to be the "intelligent interface to everything."


Since Apple's introduction of Siri on Oct. 4, 2011, a handful of tech companies—Google, Microsoft, Amazon, Facebook—have introduced competing artificial intelligence-guided digital assistants. But who better to outdo Siri than Siri's own creators, AI experts Dag Kittlaus and Adam Cheyer.

On May 9, at TechCrunch Disrupt NYC, Kittlaus gave a 20-minute presentation of Viv, a digital assistant named after the Latin root for live—and one that has, far more than its competitors, a life of its own.

Viv, said Kittlaus during his demonstration, doesn't just follow a path to get to where it intellectually needs to go, in the way that Siri, when asked the time a store opens, may pull up the Website of the store. Viv instead writes her own code.

Kittlaus demonstrated by asking Viv a question likely no one ever will: "Will it be warmer than 70 degrees near the Golden Gate bridge after 5 p.m. on the day after tomorrow?"

Kittlaus, pulling back the curtain, as it were, explained: "Here's where the magic comes in. We've got a new technology that we've been working on patenting. And it's a computer science breakthrough called Dynamic Program Generation."

Via DPG, Viv grasps the context of the question, creates word clouds and relationships between the items—the calendar component, the weather component, what and where the bridge is—and then figures out the information needed to answer it. With each query, it has more to work with and grows smarter.

"In 10 milliseconds, Viv wrote a 44-step program that figured out all the details around the context [of the query]," said Kittalus. "This is software that's writing itself."

And no, it likely won't be that warm on Wednesday near the Golden Gate Bridge.

Intelligence Becomes a Utility

While Microsoft's Cortona and its ilk are natural extensions of their companies' missions (Amazon's Alexa, for example, can add just about anything to an Amazon shopping cart), Viv Labs has broader ambitions for Viv.

Viv is device-agnostic. The sparse Viv Labs Website announces, "Viv is coming soon to devices near you," and invites vendors to drop a line if they want to integrate Viv into a service or onto a hardware.

There's a move underway to use AI to consolidate the functions of multiple applications and have the entire interaction guided by voice. At Microsoft Build in March, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella called this idea "conversation as a platform."

When Facebook introduced M, users questioned whether they really were having a conversation with AI software—or a person. (It was both, it turned out.)

Viv's creators are thinking in terms of intelligence as a utility. Once software not only answers questions but writes its own code, it can become the interface between nearly any product or service and any customer.

"For consumers, Viv is going to be the intelligent interface to everything. You're going to be talking to all different kinds of things, and it's going to be doing all sorts of things for you," said Kittalus, wrapping up his presentation.

And for developers, he added, "This is going to be the next great marketplace. You've got app stores today, but what comes after app stores is this new type of marketplace—a marketplace that works for all the different kinds of devices that the Internet of things and their use cases will generate."

It's a marketplace, he added, that will be the next big thing.