With messaging apps on the rise, chatbots are all the hype now. Chatbots are artificial intelligence systems that interact with users via messaging, text, or speech. Many are deployed on chatbot platforms such as Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, WeChat, Slack, or text messages. Facebook's expansion with Facebook Messenger has been giving businesses the opportunity to better reach their target audience through different APIs, and chatbots are becoming a necessity in certain industries. Despite the complexity of artificial intelligence used to pick content and context from conversations with users, there are a number of platforms and frameworks available to build a sophisticated chatbot.
This post was done in partnership with Wirecutter, reviews for the real world. When readers choose to buy Wirecutter's independently chosen editorial picks, it may earn affiliate commissions that support its work. After spending over 22 hours plugging in and unplugging lights and other small appliances and turning them on and off using various apps (and by barking orders at Siri and Alexa when we could), we found that the Belkin WeMo Mini is the best smart-switch outlet adapter for people who want to add smart control to their existing outlets. It packs most of the same features as our previous pick, the WeMo Insight, into a smaller size, and it's less expensive. It also plays nicely with both iOS and Android smartphones and tablets and integrates easily with popular smart-home protocols and devices.
During the past week, I've said "Hey Cortana" more times than I have over the past couple of years combined. I've been testing the Harman Kardon Invoke speaker, which is powered by Cortana and includes a custom version of Linux inside. The Invoke speaker will go on sale in the US on October 22. While I've played a bit with a family member's Amazon Echo Dot, I never bought a voice-activated speaker for use at home. I was curious if, after using the Invoke for a week to do everything from set timers, to add items to my calendar, to play music would change my mind and make me want one.
Microsoft is out to prove that Amazon's Alexa and the Google Assistant aren't the only virtual concierges worth inviting into your home. After first teasing its Cortana-powered speaker last December, Harman Kardon's Invoke will finally launch on October 22 for $199. Invoke's arrival along with similar high-end devices also marks a turning point for intelligent speakers. Potential buyers no longer need choose between high quality audio and having a smart assistant they can summon by voice. Early Internet-connected speakers, such as the first generation Echo and Google Home, provided good enough sound for casual listening.
In the universe of digital voice assistants, Amazon Alexa, Apple Siri, and Google Assistant are the indisputable rulers of the consumer AI solar system. By contrast, Microsoft's Cortana is like Pluto. We know it's generally the same as the others, but we can't decide if it has all the attributes required for classification as a planet... er... true voice assistant. Part of the problem is that people don't talk to Cortana. Microsoft introduced its digital assistant, named after the synthetic intelligence character in Halo, in 2014 on the Windows Phone platform.
"Of all the questions you could have asked…" That's how Microsoft Cortana, the digital assistant and female voice inside the new $199 Invoke voice-activated speaker from Harman Kardon, responded when I asked what she thought of Amazon Echo, the rival speaker it will inevitably draw comparisons to. It was Echo and its own chatty artificial intelligence-infused assistant Alexa, after all, that started what is rapidly becoming an increasingly crowded market for such intelligent cloud-connected speakers. The speakers let you use your voice to set alarms and timers, turn on lights, list appointments, deliver the news and play music. More: Google Home, Amazon Echo, Apple HomePod -- or all 3? How to choose a smart speaker Google's been expanding its lineup of Google Home speakers with the Google Assistant. Apple is readying a HomePod speaker with Siri for a December release.
Smart speakers are everywhere this year. So far, we've seen new entries from Apple, Amazon, Google and Sonos. Now, Microsoft is finally ready to join the party. The Harman Kardon Invoke is the first speaker to feature Microsoft's Cortana virtual assistant. Since it's coming from a brand known for audio gear, it promises better sound than the competition.
Harman Kardon's Invoke is a pretty good speaker, and Microsoft's Cortana is a pretty good digital assistant. Put them together and you have a smart speaker that costs as much, but doesn't sound as good--and isn't as smart--as the brand-new Sonos One, powered by Amazon's Alexa. The Invoke's cylindrical form factor looks slightly less like a peppermill than the original Echo, and its flared bottom make it less susceptible to falling over. You'll find all kinds of Echo accessories designed to keep the Echo upright, or to protect it from damage if it gets toppled. Like Amazon's Echo, the Invoke has a volume-control ring circling its top.
Harman Kardon's Invoke speaker, debuting Thursday for $199.95, may end up following in the footsteps of notable Microsoft-powered devices like Nokia's Windows phones: lovely hardware that's slightly tripped up by Microsoft's software and services. The soul of Harman's elegant, cylindrical smart speaker is Cortana, the digital assistant that lives within Windows 10. Cortana deftly steps in during the business day to manage reminders, answer questions about your schedule, reply to general queries about the weather, nearby restaurants, and place calls via Skype. After hours, she's your personal DJ, playing back audio with some serious boom. She also serves as the majordomo for your digital home.
I was rehearsing a speech for an AI conference recently when I happened to mention Amazon Alexa. At which point Alexa woke up and announced: "Playing Selena Gomez." I had to yell "Alexa, stop!" a few times before she even heard me. But Alexa was oblivious to my annoyance. Like the majority of virtual assistants and other technology out there, she's clueless about what we're feeling.