In Great Demand

5 digital assistants that actually make life easier

By The Editors
August 31, 2015 9:00 am

Hell is other people, they say (though Sartre didn’t). But other people, with the help of a little A.I., can be eminently useful. Here are five human-led digital assistants who only want to help.

For never leaving social media: M by Facebook
Just announced, Facebook’s new virtual assistant will (theoretically) help you find information and make dinner reservations and travel arrangements, all right from their Messenger app. It utilizes a mix of people and A.I., which allows for out-of-the box requests (staying on hold with your cable company, for starters). It’s also free, but only available to select Bay Area beta testers for the time being.

For texting your requests: GoButler
Just launched, this SMS-based P.A. utilizes human “Heroes” to complete each user’s request, ranging from gift shopping help and food delivery to traffic info and, well, “anything legal.” The service is free (they take commissions from what they sell) and keeps a profile on you to learn your future needs and wants.

For making travel plans: Pana
Have your own on-demand travel concierge right at your fingertips. For $25 a month, you have 24/7 access to an assistant for booking flights, cars and hotels (you can type something as simple as “I’m looking to hit Tahiti in November” and let the conversation go from there). For $250 a month, you get automatic upgrades and VIP access to lounges. Bonus: They’ll even help you with travel delays.

For dinner reservations: Reserve
Taking the hassle out of dinner reservations — including at places that don’t normally take ‘em (like NY’s Mission Chinese) — Reserve can book your table with various parameters (“I’m looking for Chinese near the Financial District with Power Lunch vibes”), suggest restaurants if your top choice isn’t available and even help you pay or split the bill at the end of the meal.

For your health: Vida
Vida sets you up with a personal “health coach” who designs a proper fitness or meal plan for you and offers ongoing wellness advice, all via your smartphone. You can even choose one of six styles of coach, from “drill sergeant” or “cheerleader.” Particularly useful for people with chronic illnesses, like heart disease or diabetes — they’ll remind you when to take your meds.

Your Own Personal Shopper, For Free
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