The battle for supremacy in the world of virtual assistants has taken an unusual turn with a boom in popularity for hybrid systems. Fin and Magic are two of the most popular options, and many of their users think they have found the sweet spot between a human assistant and complete automation.
Here’s how it works; contact your assistant, either via voice or text (Magic only uses text) and an artificial intelligence bot will define the nature of your request and make some estimates based on the time it will take and the level of expertise required. Then, the task is allocated to a human, either for oversight or to actually complete and you are notified as to the progress. All of this is done in a couple of minutes and you can now rest easy – your task is on the way to completion.
For a price.
Fin costs around $1 per minute and Magic just under $0.60 per minute. While this may seem trifling, considering you don’t have to commit to any time at all and you are only going to pass off jobs such as, “get me flowers delivered on Tuesday,” and, “book me a restaurant in the city for 8 PM on Wednesday.” But looks can be deceiving and our estimates as to how long something will take is apparently markedly different from the actual time taken.
Both companies point out that purchasing movie tickets, for example, isn’t as simple as making a quick phone call and sending you an email. Movie times, available seats, and a bunch of other things may be important to users, and nothing is left to chance – but you are paying for all that time. In fact, while you are only charged for the actual time taken to complete the job, that time includes collecting information from you as to what the job is in the first place and referring back to you if more information is needed.
Facebook apparently sees the market as having potential because their own version of a hybrid assistant has been built into Messenger and is currently undergoing testing. Imaginatively named, “M,” it is being designed to be three parts advanced artificial intelligence and one part human – this will either make it the most expensive option on the market, or the first genuinely useful piece of artificial intelligence to exist.
Either way, hybrid assistants are worth a shot – just don’t give them an overly complicated job, or you’ll pay for it…literally.