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Hey Siri, what is AI?

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"Hey Siri, set a timer for 10 minutes."

If you say this in a roomful of iPhones, only your phone responds. If you've ever wondered why, the answer is artificial intelligence, or AI.

A large number of digital assistants, including Amazon's Alexa, Apple's Siri, Microsoft's Cortana and Google Assistant, all use artificial intelligence to better assist you. AI really is everywhere, and you may not realize how often you use it, from your television to your bank's online chat bots that check your balance.

How voice recognition works

During its development of Siri, Apple deliberately built the system around AI. The technology used by Apple is called federated learning and was created by Google in 2017.

It allows your device to monitor your voice and audio patterns enough to recognize you in a crowd. However, the developers wanted to ensure devices could do this in a manner that also preserves user privacy.

For your phone to recognize you, it must look for patterns, notes and cues in your speech (or voice data). Instead of using a central (or cloud) server to analyze that data, though, federated learning does it locally. Additionally, it inserts raw audio noises into the files to try and dissuade anyone from copying your voice.

This type of federated learning is becoming increasingly popular as concerns about user privacy grow.

Getting to know you

Unlike an Internet search, where you can scroll through pages of results, digital voice assistants may only have one chance to provide you with a few responses to a given inquiry.

This makes it extra important for the assistant to anticipate your preferences. To this end, digital assistants can access a wide variety of information about you (search details or purchase history, for instance). Then they use machine learning to analyze the data and predict your future preferences based on past choices.

Each new inquiry and choice you make further drives this learning (a central tenant of artificial intelligence) and allows the assistant to make even better recommendations.

This means digital assistants know a great deal about us. But that's not the end of it. They can also better connect us.

An increasing number of everyday necessities are Internet enabled, including refrigerators, televisions and cars. As this usage grows, digital assistants can interact with their technology and data, creating a greater synergy between different aspects of your life.

Cutting edge of AI

Digital assistants are one of the most developed and least risky ways to implement AI into daily life. One reason digital assistants and AI make a natural fit is language. We speak to digital assistants in a casual vernacular. This allows these assistants to log and learn those speech patterns. It also allows content creators — everyone from government agencies to news organizations and advertisers — to create content that better fits the way we speak and think.

While nothing can replace a human assistant, AI can go a long way toward making our lives better. And it can know us in ways that can help us plan for the financial futures we envision. For instance, your financial professional may use risk management software that incorporates AI to help tailor a financial plan for you. Also, an index used in Athene fixed indexed annuities uses AI to identify stocks with the greatest growth potential.

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