4 MINUTE READ
We can all use a little help every now and then, both at work and at home—that’s why the rich and famous have armies of personal assistants to help them out. We can’t all afford that, but artificial intelligence is coming to the rescue with a new wave of AI assistants to help get get things done, handling the tedious details of making things happen.
It’s a huge growth area, with billions of dollars invested in hundreds of companies creating AI assistants for specific tasks, such as AI marketing assistants, AI recruiting, HR, or even sorting out expenses. Others can handle tasks like taking notes in meetings, negotiating bills, or even doing math homework. Chances are that whatever someone wants help with, there is, or will soon be, an AI assistant available to help.
HOW MANY AI ASSISTANTS ARE THERE?
Hundreds. The past few months have seen the launch of a slew of new companies creating AI assistants that watch what people do and learn from it, such as Augment and Heyday. Other AI Assistants can help with recruiting and job hunting,
Meanwhile, companies like Google, Microsoft, and Adobe are adding AI assistant features to their products. It’s beginning to look like a world where pretty much everything will come with an AI assistant, or there will be one available, built into most apps and web browsers.
HOW DO YOU MAKE AN AI ASSISTANT?
Let’s look at the process of setting up an AI assistant. For this example, I used Otter.ai, one of the more established AI assistant services. After I shared my calendar with the service, it grabbed details of the virtual meetings from my calendar. When I attended a meeting, it joined and captured audio and video. Once the meeting ended, it created a transcript, complete with labels for who was speaking, culled from attendee names. It worked with Microsoft Teams, Zoom, and Google Meet, and any audio files can be uploaded for transcription.
Once the meeting had been transcribed, I went through the transcript and made a few edits for things it had misread, such as product names (it misheard Netgear as Net Ears). This was easy to do: Just click on the text, and it plays the excerpt of the recording.
And Otter learns from these corrections: Once I identified that mistake, it didn’t make it again. I then highlighted the important points I needed to remember and identified action points to follow up on. Otter tracks these, and can share them with the other meeting attendees so that everyone can see what they need to do after the meeting.
These are all things I could do myself, but the point is that Otter automates these tasks, freeing me up for the more important things like writing articles about how cool AI is. Otter is certainly not the only AI meeting assistant, though—there are similar services from Fireflies and TIDV.
I also tried Heyday, a new AI assistant that describes itself as a “context surfacing service.” This works alongside apps and browsers, keeping track of popular searches and offering recommendations. After installing and setting up the service, it added highlights to articles I was reading that linked to relevant content I had looked at previously. For the name ChatGPT in an article I was reading, for instance, it created a highlight that brought up a sidebar with links to 15 other articles I had looked at recently that mentioned it. If you are the sort of person like me who browses a lot and then forgets where you read something, it’s an interesting tool for helping organize your research.
CAN YOU CREATE AN AI ASSISTANT FOR FREE?
Most AI assistants have a free tier plus one or more monthly subscription levels that offer more features. Otter.ai offers a free plan limited to 30 minutes of voice transcription per meeting and a monthly total of 300 minutes. A small monthly fee buys 90 minutes per meeting and 1,200 minutes monthly. That’s pretty typical of these services: a base level to get started, then a subscription that offers a premium level of service. Heyday has a 14-day free trial, but the full service costs $179 a year or $19 a month.
Many companies are also adding AI assistants to their existing apps, but it is not yet clear if these will be part of the standard subscriptions or if they will cost extra. Microsoft is adding a feature called Copilot 365 to its Office 365 subscription service that uses ChatGPT to automate office apps—to do complex tasks like analyzing trends in an Excel spreadsheet, then putting this data into a PowerPoint presentation. That will be available soon, but Microsoft has not yet announced what this will cost. Google has announced similar plans for its Google Workspace products, starting with a service that can draft and rewrite emails.
While these will require a monthly subscription, there are currently some free AI assistants. Leon is an open-source personal assistant created by Louis Grenard that can be downloaded and run for free on a local server, which comes with the benefit of keeping personal data out of the hands of data farmers. Leon is still in the early stages, but it has significant promise if you want to get under the hood with creating your own AI assistant. You can also try it out using Gitpod.io, which runs the code on Github’s servers.
WILL AI REPLACE REAL PERSONAL ASSISTANTS?
No—at least, not yet. The AI assistants I looked at are excellent at specific tasks and definitely make my work easier, but they are not adaptable: You can’t throw a new task at them and leave them to figure it out like you can with a real person. That will probably take a few more generations. But for now, AI assistants can definitely make life easier by automating everyday tasks.
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