Skip to main content

Google’s next virtual assistant could chat your ear off on just about any topic

Most virtual assistant makers like Google and Amazon have spent their past few years in building more conversational A.I. bots that could go beyond the usual jokes and commands and essentially talk to you as a real human. Google today shared what it has been up to, and in a published paper, details a “human-like” chatbot called Meena that can “engage in conversation on any topic.”

Meena, unlike its peers such as Google’s own Assistant, is an open-domain chatbot. What that means is that Meena is not built around a limited set of data that is hand-picked to accomplish specific tasks. Instead, Meena is designed to contextually and constantly converse with you — no matter the topic.

This is made possible thanks to Google’s vast collection of data. The company claims Meena has been trained “on 40 billion words mined and filtered from public domain social media conversations.”

More importantly, with Meena, Google is tackling the perplexity shortcomings common voice assistants suffer from. The machine learning models Siri and Google Assistant use cannot handle multiturn dialogues like humans. When in doubt, they simply tell you they can’t understand the query and pull up a web result.

To ensure Meena doesn’t fall victim to the same stumbling blocks, Google is adding a second parameter to their algorithms, which in addition to being clever enough to not respond with gibberish, can also come up with a specific answer.

“For example, if A says, ‘I love tennis,’ and B responds, ‘That’s nice,’ then the utterance should be marked, ‘not specific’. That reply could be used in dozens of different contexts. But if B responds, ‘Me too, I can’t get enough of Roger Federer!’ then it is marked as ‘specific’ since it relates closely to what is being discussed,” added Google in the paper.

Based on these metrics, an average human scores 86%. Google says it has so far managed to bring Meena up to a staggering 79%. In comparison, Pandora Bots’ A.I. agent that has been winning the Loebner Prize, an annual competition that rewards the programs that are the most human-like, for four years got 56% in Google’s tests.

Google isn’t the only one racing to figure out conversational bots. Through its Semantics Machines acquisition, Microsoft has been working towards engineering multiturn dialogue in chatbots for over two years. Samsung, at the Consumer Electronics Show earlier this year, showcased a virtual human.

Google’s Meena likely won’t make it to your devices anytime soon. But it’s that clear in the next few years, voice assistants will undergo dramatic, fundamental upgrades. We might hear more about this at Google’s upcoming annual developer conference in May.

Editors' Recommendations

Shubham Agarwal
Shubham Agarwal is a freelance technology journalist from Ahmedabad, India. His work has previously appeared in Firstpost…
Digital Trends’ Tech For Change CES 2023 Awards
Digital Trends CES 2023 Tech For Change Award Winners Feature

CES is more than just a neon-drenched show-and-tell session for the world’s biggest tech manufacturers. More and more, it’s also a place where companies showcase innovations that could truly make the world a better place — and at CES 2023, this type of tech was on full display. We saw everything from accessibility-minded PS5 controllers to pedal-powered smart desks. But of all the amazing innovations on display this year, these three impressed us the most:

Samsung's Relumino Mode
Across the globe, roughly 300 million people suffer from moderate to severe vision loss, and generally speaking, most TVs don’t take that into account. So in an effort to make television more accessible and enjoyable for those millions of people suffering from impaired vision, Samsung is adding a new picture mode to many of its new TVs.
[CES 2023] Relumino Mode: Innovation for every need | Samsung
Relumino Mode, as it’s called, works by adding a bunch of different visual filters to the picture simultaneously. Outlines of people and objects on screen are highlighted, the contrast and brightness of the overall picture are cranked up, and extra sharpness is applied to everything. The resulting video would likely look strange to people with normal vision, but for folks with low vision, it should look clearer and closer to "normal" than it otherwise would.
Excitingly, since Relumino Mode is ultimately just a clever software trick, this technology could theoretically be pushed out via a software update and installed on millions of existing Samsung TVs -- not just new and recently purchased ones.

Read more
AI turned Breaking Bad into an anime — and it’s terrifying
Split image of Breaking Bad anime characters.

These days, it seems like there's nothing AI programs can't do. Thanks to advancements in artificial intelligence, deepfakes have done digital "face-offs" with Hollywood celebrities in films and TV shows, VFX artists can de-age actors almost instantly, and ChatGPT has learned how to write big-budget screenplays in the blink of an eye. Pretty soon, AI will probably decide who wins at the Oscars.

Within the past year, AI has also been used to generate beautiful works of art in seconds, creating a viral new trend and causing a boon for fan artists everywhere. TikTok user @cyborgism recently broke the internet by posting a clip featuring many AI-generated pictures of Breaking Bad. The theme here is that the characters are depicted as anime characters straight out of the 1980s, and the result is concerning to say the least. Depending on your viewpoint, Breaking Bad AI (my unofficial name for it) shows how technology can either threaten the integrity of original works of art or nurture artistic expression.
What if AI created Breaking Bad as a 1980s anime?
Playing over Metro Boomin's rap remix of the famous "I am the one who knocks" monologue, the video features images of the cast that range from shockingly realistic to full-on exaggerated. The clip currently has over 65,000 likes on TikTok alone, and many other users have shared their thoughts on the art. One user wrote, "Regardless of the repercussions on the entertainment industry, I can't wait for AI to be advanced enough to animate the whole show like this."

Read more
4 simple pieces of tech that helped me run my first marathon
Garmin Forerunner 955 Solar displaying pace information.

The fitness world is littered with opportunities to buy tech aimed at enhancing your physical performance. No matter your sport of choice or personal goals, there's a deep rabbit hole you can go down. It'll cost plenty of money, but the gains can be marginal -- and can honestly just be a distraction from what you should actually be focused on. Running is certainly susceptible to this.

A few months ago, I ran my first-ever marathon. It was an incredible accomplishment I had no idea I'd ever be able to reach, and it's now going to be the first of many I run in my lifetime. And despite my deep-rooted history in tech, and the endless opportunities for being baited into gearing myself up with every last product to help me get through the marathon, I went with a rather simple approach.

Read more