Alana Debuts a Conversational AI With Plenty to Discuss
Conversational artificial intelligence developer Alana has officially launched its eponymous voice assistant. Alana, named for artificial intelligence pioneer Alan Turing, is designed to mimic and respond to humans over a more extended conversation than is standard with most voice assistants.
Alana, at its core is a voice AI that can keep up its side of the conversation for longer than the usual request and response exchanges familiar to most smart speaker owners. Alana can apply its AI toward not only understanding what people are saying, but what it means about that person’s interests and hobbies. That means Alana can take a more proactive role in the conversation, suggesting new topics and subjects to discuss that fit with what’s already been said. The AI uses different sources for its discussion topics, depending on circumstance. The platform can use publicly available information, or businesses and organizations can add existing databases to Alana, allowing the AI to leverage specific knowledge.
“The speed of progress in conversation [tech] is enormous and there are many verticals where Alana can be useful,” Alana chief AI officer Oliver Lemon said in an interview with Voicebot. “Finance, education, and healthcare are where we are focusing right now, but there are a lot of potential ways to use Alana. It can work through Google Assistant or an Alexa Skill, or be under another name. [Alana] is very flexible.”
Alana is a spin-off of Heriot-Watt University in Scotland. The company is still based at the university’s Global Research, Innovation and Discovery (GRID) facility. Since its founding, Alana has reached the finalist stage of the Amazon Alexa Prize twice. Alana has four clients already using its platform and expects to sign up more very quickly. One South Korean client is already applying Alana to build a virtual English tutor, and members of the finance and healthcare industries are already in discussion with Alana’s team. The current COVID-19 pandemic is serving to draw in potential new customers.
“The virus has really only increased demand for touch-free devices and communications,” said Alana CEO Nehat Krasniqi in an interview with Voicebot.
One aspect in particular where Alana’s conversational skills could come in handy right now is with keeping people quarantine by the virus company. Multiple studies have shown that even standard voice assistants can reduce loneliness in older people. That’s part of the appeal of the growing number of devices that use AI to help older people, including smart displays like LifePod and Pria, as well as robots like Temi and the cat-faced Mylo. As the group most likely to need to be in quarantine during the pandemic, an AI that can help keep older people company while relaying any relevant information to healthcare professionals could be a real boon right now.
“People feel comfortable talking to [voice AI’s] like Alana if they feel responsive and natural,” Lemon said. “Alana learns continuously from its conversations the best way to get through to people. We are continuing to learn about new ways that [Alana] can be useful.”