Two years since its demise, the spectre of Microsoft’s animated paperclip, Clippy, still haunts anyone hoping to develop a virtual assistant to help people get things done. Few have tried to push virtual assistants to the public since.
But Clippy’s unpopularity hasn’t deterred the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) from spending an estimated $150 million on its own virtual helper.
And although intended to ease the US military’s bureaucratic load, an artificially intelligent helper based on the project is heading the way of consumers later this year.
Begun in 2003 the CALO, for Cognitive Assistant that Learns and Organizes, project involved over 60 universities and research organisations and is the largest ever non-classified AI project. It ends this Friday and has produced a virtual assistant that can sort, prioritise, and summarise email; automatically schedule meetings; and prepare briefing notes before them.