Good morning, Silvia

The first session of TechCrunch40 is over. Four flavors of search engine (Powerset, Cast.tv, Faroo, and Viewdle), none quite impressive enough to break my Google habit. But a fifth company, Cognitive Code, intrigued me. (I wasnâ''t clear why the conference organizers grouped this company with the search engines.) Cognitive Code introduced a conversational tool called Silvia (for Symbolically Isolated, Linguistically Variable, Intelligence Algorithms), intended to be used as an adjunct to existing applications or built into new ones. The company founders envision Silvia allowing people to have conversations with their cars, microwaves, televisions, and cell phones, as well as being used in commercial operations like call centers. Silvia reminded me of Eliza, the 1966 simulation of a psychiatrist (interesting that AI programs are always named after women, no?). Silvia is less annoying and more useful than her ancestor; she can understand requests and take actions, not just respond with questions (although, in the demo, while she was happy to open up a Word document upon request, she was reluctant to put it away). Cognitive Code promised that at least one product from a major company to be unveiled at the upcoming January Consumer Electronics Show would showcase Silvia technology; Iâ''ll be looking for it.

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