AI: the new normal

Samsung Bixby: augmented reality comes to the Galaxy S8

Intelligent applications and devices can change the way we live and work.

All of a sudden, it seems, artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning have become mainstream. Sure, they’re buzzwords that are sometimes used rather loosely – and we’re still very much in the early stages of the AI era – but there’s no doubt that we have seen rapid advancements in intelligent applications and devices. 

Here are just a few that promise to change the way we live and work.

Google Assistant: capable of two-way conversations.

Google Assistant

Google Now was Android’s answer to Apple’s Siri, and Google Assistant is the search giant’s latest generation digital assistant that’s available for an increasing number of recent phone models – including Apple’s iPhones. 

As well as being smarter than Now and able to have two-way conversations with users, Google Assistant is compatible with Google Lens, a new augmented reality (AR) app that will use the phone’s camera to provide information about whatever it’s focusing on – anything from identifying flowers to displaying a restaurant’s menu.


Apple’s voice-activated digital assistant for iPhones, iPads and the Apple Watch was one of the first commonly used intelligent applications, but in some ways it has fallen behind competitors such as Google Assistant. Apple isn’t taking that lying down, of course. 

In iOS 11 – the next version of the mobile operating system due out later in 2017 – Siri will have a number of improvements, including “on-device learning to deliver more personal experiences and offer suggestions based on personal usage of Safari, News, Mail, Messages and more”, according to Apple.

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Samsung Bixby

Samsung’s take on the digital assistant, Bixby, comes with the company’s latest flagship phone, the Galaxy S8, and will eventually be rolled out to Samsung TVs and other products. Bixby’s main app is like Google Now: it automatically provides information you need when you need it, such as a reminder to call someone back when you get to the office. It also powers Vision, an AR app similar to Google Lens. Bixby was released in South Korea in May; English voice commands are due to be added over the next few months.

Amazon Echo: a speaker that talks back.

Amazon Echo and Google Home 

Echo is a smart speaker that brings Amazon’s digital assistant, Alexa, into homes. Using voice commands, you can ask it to play music, read the news, place an order and much more. Like all these intelligent apps, Alexa “learns” and gets better the more you use it. 

Google Home is a very similar device. The difference is Home lets you use your voice to command Google’s Chromecast streaming device, while Amazon Echo only lets you connect with other Echo devices, such as the Echo Dot smart speakers. Unfortunately, neither the Echo nor Home are officially available in Australia yet. 

Apple HomePod: Australia's first smart speaker?

Apple HomePod

Apple has announced that its smart speaker, HomePod, will be available in December 2017, including in Australia. While it has an intelligent assistant – in this case Siri, as you’d expect – HomePod seems to be more focused on music than Amazon Echo and Google Home. HomePod will feature a seven-speaker array of tweeters and a 4-inch subwoofer, and Apple says it will automatically analyse the acoustics of a room and adjust the audio accordingly.

Google G Suite

Machine learning is obviously a high priority for Google because the technology has even made its way into Google G Suite, the latest name for the search giant’s online application suite. For example, Explore in Docs, Slides, and Sheets are features that use machine learning to quickly find documents or information on the web, reformat presentations, perform calculations in spreadsheets and more. 

Most recently, Google has added the ability to use natural language, which is technology that helps computers understand human speech, to quickly create charts in Sheets. This means you can ask Sheets to create a “bar chart for total sales of this year” and it will automatically build one for you.

Xero and Sage

Sage Pegg: you can now chat with your accounts.Machine learning is also coming to accounting. Xero is trialling its first machine-learning tool that promises to speed up invoice preparation by suggesting account codes for invoices. Like other forms of machine learning, it improves over time, but Xero claims it can achieve 80 per cent accuracy after only four invoices. Meanwhile, Sage is working on a speech-based interface for its accounting system and is also beta-testing a chat bot called Pegg that will let users manage their accounts using natural language via Skype, Facebook Messenger or team messaging platform Slack.

Read next: 5 ways accountants have mastered AI

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August 2017
August 2017

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