You schedule your appointments, run your errands, summon your Uber--but the next wave of virtual assistants will do that for you. Software that reads your email to schedule meetings is already here; tools from big players like Amazon show signs of expanding beyond the tech-obsessed. Grand View Research projects that virtual assistants will be a $3 billion U.S. market in 2020, up from $572 million in 2014. These players are leading the way.
Most versatile - 24me
Israeli startup 24me responds to text and voice commands to manage your calendar, lists, notes, social media notifications--and its in-app functions let you send gifts and pay bills. Previously, 24me had a partnership with TaskRabbit, and it says it will soon offer ways (as yet undisclosed) to complete human-dependent tasks such as getting an oil change.
Look out, Siri - Amazon Echo
Amazon's voice-controlled cylinder Echo--which answers to the name Alexa--responds to spoken commands to search the internet, keep track of appointments, and control apps like Uber and Spotify. Currently, Echo is duking it out with Amazon's Paperwhite Kindle and Fire tablet for top slots on Amazon's bestseller lists for electronics.
The all-star scheduler - Amy Ingram
Amy Ingram has suddenly become an oddly common name for an assistant in Silicon Valley. Its initials are also those of artificial intelligence. Amy--sometimes Andrew--was created by X.ai to schedule meetings for its users by reading and responding to their email. Though now available only to a group of insiders, it is already well-known among the tech cognoscenti.
The next big things? - Hound and Viv
The not-yet-released Viv and the just-released Hound are voice-activated virtual assistants that will run on other devices. Viv Labs' Viv comes from Siri's creators, and Hound comes from song-recognition software SoundHound. Investors are excited: Viv has scored $30 million in funding, and Hound has raised $16 million.
The retro-chic choice - Braina
The voice-activated software for Brainasoft's Braina takes dictation, plays music on demand, and navigates the internet. And its old-school red-type and blue-type look pleasingly recalls the early-2000s glory days of AOL Instant Messenger. It's currently available only for Windows and Android, but Mac and Linux versions will come this year.
Beyond the robots - Magic
You could ask a pal to pick up a pizza on his way over--or text Magic, which lets you buy anything legal via text, to get that fresh pie delivered. (Automation and actual human labor fulfill these requests.) Another combination human-robot virtual concierge: Facebook M, available only to select Facebook Messenger users. Some who've tried M have been awed by its skills.