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Volio Partners With Esquire For App That Turns Any Expert Into A Human Siri

March 26, 2013 | Telepresence Options


Story and Images by Bianca Bosker / Huffington Post

A growing number of virtual assistants, like Siri, have charmed the world with their human characteristics -- they can speak, crack jokes and even get mad.

But Volio, a startup headed by Nuance co-founder Ronald Croen, is flipping that idea on its head with technology that uses artificial intelligence to give humans the characteristics of virtual assistants. With Volio's product, anyone from Oprah to Obama could be summoned instantly on a screen for a one-on-one chat about their area of expertise. It's the face-to-face conversation, only automated, digitized and scaled.

Volio combines video with natural language processing software that helps computers make sense of human speech. The product lets public figures give the impression they're available anytime to dispense personalized advice to their fans.

In Esquire magazine's new "Talk with Esquire" app, the first to feature Volio technology, Esquire fashion director Nick Sullivan, grooming expert Rodney Cutler and drinks guru David Wondrich stand by ready to address readers' fashion and mixology needs. Tap on Wondrich, and a video of him appears in which he asks, "What's your favorite type of liquor?" Answer with a sentence like, "You know me I'll drink nearly anything, so let's go with vodka," and Wondrich replies, "Not too picky I see." The virtual mixologist then proceeds to narrow down a list of drink choices. He'll ultimately go through the steps required to prepare a cocktail to teach the viewer how it's done.

Volio's speech-recognition and language technology allow people to speak normally to Wondrich and have him talk back, enhancing the impression that the Esquire columnist has interrupted his busy schedule for a video chat right then and there.

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