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I learned three things from IBM’s Connie the concierge robot when I visited her at the Hilton in McClean, Virginia. First, my Southern accent is much stronger than I realized. Second, voice recognition systems still have trouble understanding some of us. Third, the natural language processing capabilities of this Watson-driven robot are impressive, but our brief acquaintance indicates that they fall short of being cognitive.
According to IBM’s March press release about the project, “Connie uses a combination of Watson APIs, including Dialog, Speech to Text, Text to Speech and Natural Language Classifier, to enable it to greet guests upon arrival and to answer questions about hotel amenities, services and hours of operation.”
I asked Connie a series of questions about those subjects, and she seemed to be best at giving directional advice. For example, when I asked how to get into DC – about 20 miles away – from McClean, she gave me driving directions as well as two public transit options. Connie uses WayBlazer technology for travel advice, and that shines through here.
However, when I asked “What is a good place to eat?”, Connie responded with “What place do you mean?” My colloquial question clearly confused the robot, so I clarified with, “What is a good restaurant nearby?” In response, Connie suggested that I go to the hotel concierge since she didn’t know the answer to my question “yet.”