Virtual assistants such as Siri, Alexa and Google Now are still in an awkward phase. They’re useful for controlling your stereo, answering the occasional trivia question, or warning you about traffic, but they still don’t have the intelligence or access necessary to really anticipate your biggest needs. It’s nothing like having a real human watching you and handing out advice. Which is exactly what performance artist Lauren McCarthy promises to do, for three days at a time.
McCarthy bills herself as LAUREN, a “human intelligent smart home”. If she accepts your application, she’ll visit your home, install monitoring and smart-home equipment, and spend three days controlling your home and anticipating your needs.
This is the sort of art project that seems destined to become a real service. There are already multiple assistant services that combine computerised assistants with human ones. But they all focus on reactive, rather than proactive, assistance. A dedicated human assistant, who behaves more like Her than like Siri, would be much more expensive.
But as the wealth gap widens, there’s a rising potential market of wealthy customers who could afford underpaid always-on assistants, much like China’s rising demand for butlers. As Google, Amazon, Microsoft and Apple refuse to fully integrate their voice assistants, a human assistant can smooth over those rough edges and fill in those gaps, taking over all the fiddly work of managing your technology, as well as giving hard-to-automate advice such as, “You need a haircut,” or, “I think this music is distracting you from your homework.”
The testimonials on LAUREN’s site make her sound rewarding, if a bit pushy. She clearly brings a level of attention and insight no algorithm, or even a less dedicated remote human, can yet achieve. It doesn’t seem crazy to imagine her kind of service becoming the norm.