Siri vs. Alexa vs. Cortana vs. Google Assistant: It's Battle of the AI Systems

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The machines are rising. They are planning our days, making our reservations, ordering our cars. We talk to Alexa, Siri, Cortana and Google like we would a human assistant.

But how do these AI systems compare? Here's a look at what they do, how they're marketed and what they'll do next.

Siri, made by Apple
Siri, made by Apple Credit: Apple

Siri

Made by Apple

Origins: Siri was perhaps the first virtual personal assistant to enter the mainstream, debuting on the iPhone in 2011.

Functions: Siri only widely opened to third-party apps this year with the arrival of iOS 10. That's allowed developers outside Apple to give it capabilities such as hailing an Uber if you simply ask for one, which so far is the pinnacle of achievement for most consumer-facing AI.

Major malfunction: Siri was criticized early on for poor speech recognition because Apple was behind rivals in "neural network" technology—that's nerd-speak for computers that act more like human brains. Apple improved this technology this year.

Upgrades: Siri is getting smarter with Apple TV. A viewer can ask it to pull up a livestream from inside Apple TV apps. It also is embedded into Apple CarPlay for hands-free control of key systems like navigation, music and messaging. And Siri is gaining control of homes through Apple HomeKit.

Marketing: In the past year, Apple has played up Siri's talk-to-TV capabilities in TV commercials. It's also relied on stars like Zooey Deschanel and Cookie Monster in work done by Apple agency TBWA/Media Arts Lab.

Alexa on Echo, made by Amazon
Alexa on Echo, made by Amazon Credit: Amazon

Alexa

Made by Amazon

Origins: Alexa is the name Amazon gave the digital assistant living inside its Echo home device, which started selling widely in June 2015.

Functions: Alexa began with limited uses, most often responding from the in-home speaker to requests for things like weather and news. Alexa can also find a radio station from TuneIn. It's an Amazon pitchwoman through and through, so it will take commands like remembering your shopping list.

Major malfunction: Alexa isn't in your phone; it's stuck inside the Echo or the newer Dot device. Amazon just made it available in its tablets.

Upgrades: This fall, Alexa connected with Amazon's TV device to control streaming video. And it made the leap from simply taking dictation around shopping lists to now placing the orders. Alexa also has a program to control the home environment. Tinkerers have hacked the device to perform functions like starting their Tesla cars remotely.

Marketing: The company is running an ambitious series of 100 digital vignettes called "Alexa Moments," 10 seconds each, to show its versatility. Tool of North America is the agency.

Cortana

Made by Microsoft

Origins: Cortana was introduced in 2014, named after the AI
character in the hit Xbox game "Halo."

Cortana, made by Microsoft
Cortana, made by Microsoft Credit: Microsoft

Functions: Microsoft calls Cortana a "digital agent." It can handle basics like controlling calendars, getting weather and taking dictation on an email.

Major malfunction: Like all AI-powered assistants, Cortana is only as smart as its programming, and Cortana gets much of its information from Microsoft's Bing. It does not use Google, the search leader. That's not a "malfunction," but it is different.

Upgrades: Microsoft has put Cortana into its Edge web browser, which means it's there to help complete online tasks such as making reservations or looking for discounts while shopping. Cortana also works with Google Android and Apple iOS devices. Microsoft wants Cortana to be everywhere, including of course its own ecosystem, from the Xbox to Skype to LinkedIn.

Marketing: Microsoft's most memorable Cortana commercials are the ones that go directly after Siri, something it has done a few times over the years in spots from M:United.

Assistant, made by Google
Assistant, made by Google Credit: Google

Assistant

Made by Google

Origins: In 2012, Google answered Apple's Siri by adding Google Now to phones. Google's AI advanced this year with Google Home, an Echo competitor, and a new messaging app called Allo, both bearing a voice-commanded helper known simply as Google Assistant. It's also the engine for Now.

Functions: Google Assistant acts like Siri or Cortana, as an assistant that can call up information and perform tasks like turning on Spotify and giving directions. Of course, Google taps into its own knowledge graph to retrieve the relevant information for consumers, which gives it an advantage as it expands capabilities.

Major malfunction: Privacy is a concern for all AI-powered devices invading our homes, but Google gets higher scrutiny on this issue because of all the data it has. It's going to be a challenge to balance privacy with always-on. ever-listening digital assistance.

Upgrades: Assistant can perform tasks like finding flights. The assistant also syncs with Chromecast, giving people voice control over their digital TV experience.

Marketing: Google is promoting its new Pixel phone with TV spots calling it the first phone with Assistant. Droga 5 is the agency.