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Better than Siri? New virtual helper, Evi, hits market

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A new virtual helper can do more than the Apple iPhone's Siri personal assistant.

Siri, the virtual helper available on the latest iPhone has competition from a faster, supposedly smarter, more versatile app known as Evi.

Evi was created by Cambridge-based semantic technology startup True Knowledge to respond to queries either typed or spoken in a conversational manner. It can answer questions from an extensive database of close to a billion facts and can call up train schedules, make restaurant reservations and find TV listings among other secretarial tasks.

Unlike Siri, the new application is available for use on both the iPhone and Android. And it makes use of semantic database technology, the ability for computers to interpret context, meaning and subtleties of language. The voice recognition software understands words that sound the same and Evi can call up more accurate results for abstract terms like trip or check.

Rachel Metz writes for Technology Review:

"For example, asking Evi, "What's a good recipe for chocolate mousse?" yields specific recipes. Ask Siri the same question, and you'll receive a suggestion to search the Web. Similarly, if you ask Evi "When is the next national holiday?" the app will respond with Monday, February 20, which is Presidents' Day. Siri pulls a result from computational knowledge service Wolfram Alpha that doesn't make much sense."

Since Evi’s release last Monday, the 99 cents app (free on Android phones) has already been overworked. Evi’s servers have been tied up with eager users, which made it difficult for those downloading the app to try it out. If a user asked Evi a question, it would get the response, “I’m working on it” or “I’m having trouble getting a response from my servers. You might want to try again in a minute.”

True Knowledge said it has already added server capacity to deal with Evi’s popularity.

This is only the beginning of virtual helpers. As the market expands, technology companies will need to expand the range of tasks e-assistants can perform.

New Virtual Helper Challenges Siri [Technology Review]

Photo: True Knowledge

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Amy Kraft

Weekend Editor

Contributing Editor Amy Kraft is a freelance writer based in New York. She has written for New Scientist and DNAinfo and has produced podcasts for Scientific American's 60-Second-Science. She holds degrees from CUNY Graduate School of Journalism and the University of Illinois at Chicago. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure