While companies like Microsoft are hard at work trying to make a virtual assistant feel as human-like as possible, one company has decided to employ a team of real-life human beings to answer your questions.
That’s the premise of Ooloo — a personal aide app for Android and iOS that provides answers retrieved by a staff of researchers.
Similar to Google Now, the free app listens to your request after you tap a microphone symbol and recite your question. Unlike Siri or Google Now, however, the company claims that Ooloo can understand complex questions that a computer wouldn’t be able to comprehend.
For example, if you ask for directions to a particular destination, you could also ask whether or not there’s a clothing store on the way.
Those types of compound questions would confuse a digital assistant, according to Raghu Kulkarni, CEO and president of Ooloo creator Pro Softnet Corp.
“You have a human element to your answers,” Kulkarni told Business Insider. “[There are] some complex questions that Siri or Google Now may not be able to answer depending on the complexity of the query. Especially if you ask a question, search engines fail.”
Pro Softnet Corp. is a cloud solutions company known for its iDrive storage app, and Kulkarni says the company has been re-purposing workers from its support staff to answer Ooloo questions. Pro Softnet has about 50 employees in its Calabasas, Calif. headquarters, and they have made a few new hires for Ooloo.
After launching officially in the App Store and Google Play Store on August 2, the app has answered 10,000 questions span of two days, Kulkarni said.
The company had to shut down requests from outside of the US due to this flood of queries.
“The demand is definitely way more than we expected,” Kulkarni said, “for both Android and iOS.”
Ooloo’s team is on-hand 24/7 to answer questions, but since queries are being researched by a team of humans, it takes longer to receive an answer. When I asked “When was the last Leap Year?” it took about five minutes to receive an answer. A researcher named Danny addressed my query, and provided a link to read more.
When I asked Siri the same question, she responded quickly after a short pause, but didn’t provide a real answer. She simply said, “OK, check it out,” and provided a link to download the Wolfram Alpha app.
With its massive database of indexed websites, maps, and other seemingly endless resources, competing with a tech behemoth like Google is certainly a challenge. But one of the advantages of receiving answers from a human is that he or she can pull from a wealth of sources, not just Google’s, whenever necessary.
If you’re speaking in an accent that Google Now may be unfamiliar with, chances are a person is more likely to understand and recognise it, Kulkarni also pointed out.
It’s unclear if Ooloo will be able to compete with Google and Apple when it comes to quick location-based questions, but if you need quick answers to academic questions that require a bit of research, Ooloo may prove useful.
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