Friday, October 17, 2014

The Fast-Track to Singularity


A small team of engineers at a stealth startup called Viv Labs claims to be on the verge of realizing an advanced form of AI that removes previous limitations of applications, such as Apple’s Siri. Whereas Siri can only perform tasks that Apple engineers explicitly implement, this new program, they say, will be able to teach itself, giving it almost limitless capabilities. In time, they assert, their creation will be able to use your personal preferences and a near-infinite web of connections to answer almost any query and perform almost any function.

For the past two years, the team has been working on Viv Labs' product -- also named Viv (after the Latin root meaning live). Their project has been draped in secrecy, but the few outsiders who have gotten a look speak about it in rapturous terms. "The vision is very significant," says Oren Etzioni, a renowned AI expert who heads the Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence. "If this team is successful, we are looking at the future of intelligent agents and a multibillion-dollar industry."

Like Siri, Google’s competing AI called “Google Now” can't do anything that coders haven't explicitly programmed it to do. Viv breaks through those constraints by generating its own code on the fly, no programmers required.


Viv is an open system that will let innumerable businesses and applications become part of its boundless brain. The technical barriers are minimal, requiring brief "training" (in some cases, minutes) for Viv to understand the jargon of the specific topic. As Viv's knowledge grows, so will its understanding; its creators have designed it based on three principles they call its "pillars": it will be taught by the world, it will know more than it is taught, and it will learn something every day. As with other AI products, that teaching involves using sophisticated algorithms to interpret the language and behaviour of people using the system -- the more people use it, the smarter it gets. By knowing who its users are and which services they interact with, Viv can sift through that vast trove of data and find new ways to connect and manipulate information.

- Written by Steven Levy.
This article was taken from the October 2014 issue of WIRED magazine.