I am considering writing a story whose narrator is a Siri-like AI device. In other words like an automaton, but without a physical body or any ability to manipulate the physical environment (short of, say, adjusting a networked thermostat).

However, the definitions of automaton that I find describe it as meaning, first and foremost a mechanical device, vs being an "intelligence" with no overt physical form (outside of perhaps a cellphone case). Robot, cyborg, et al suffer from the same problem.

So, what is a word (or simple phrase) that describes an artificial intelligence with no physical presence?

  • I've heard such things called "voice-bots" or "chat-bots" (chat could be text only) ... these terms are influx . I'd be careful with the use of "Artificial Intelligence" too, as there is some disagreement if something that mearly applies an algorithm or set of written procedures to react is "AI" or if AI requires that the computer must be able to learn on it's own and improve responses without programming the new responses. – Tom22 Jun 25 '17 at 22:09
  • Maybe this would be on-topic at scifi.stackexchange.com ... What have such AIs been called in science fiction? – GEdgar Mar 20 '18 at 18:52
  • The default for an AI is generally NOT to be "embodied"; is there a reason why that term doesn't work for you? – 1006a Mar 20 '18 at 18:55
  • @1006a - "AI implementation" simply doesn't give the reader a warm fuzzy feeling. – Hot Licks Mar 20 '18 at 21:43

Wikipedia calls her a virtual assistant:

A virtual assistant is a software agent that can perform tasks or services for an individual.

  • 1
    Most virtual assistants are contract or freelance workers who do their jobs from home and focus on administrative tasks that are similar to those of an executive assistant. ? – lbf Mar 20 '18 at 20:13

If you'd consider all the devices on which the virtual assistent runs as individual nodes, you could say those, together with the servers which run in the background, form a neural network. Definition according to Merriam Webster Dictionary:

"a computer architecture in which a number of processors are interconnected in a manner suggestive of the connections between neurons in a human brain and which is able to learn by a process of trial and error — called also neural net"1

Parallels with neural networks in computer science

The picture below shows a simple neural network as used in computer science. It consists of input, output and hidden nodes. One could draw the parallel to this question, arguing that the user's devices serve the roles of both input and output nodes (because there is no actual physical part). The architecture behind it (processing power on different servers, machine learning applications which turn the input into the most optimal output) could be referred to as the hidden nodes.

enter image description here

Source attribution for this picture can be found under 2 below.

Source attribution

1 "Neural Network." Merriam-Webster.com. Accessed March 20, 2018. https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/neural network.

2 By en:User:Cburnett [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)], via Wikimedia Commons

  • Siri's not really a neural network the way you describe it. A neural network (NN) is used for processing speech so that Siri knows what is being said (I wouldn't describe Siri as a whole as a NN though). It's also worth mentioning that NNs can be used for so much more, such as "painting" and pattern recognition of all types. – Laurel Mar 20 '18 at 19:47
  • The question isn't specific to Siri. I think neural network is particularly fitting to the "an artificial intelligence with no physical presence" part. An artificial intelligence as used in CS models a large number of nodes, in this fictional story, you might say the different virtual assistants (as in your answer) are the input and output nodes (at different times) of the CS application. The architecture behind it parallels the hidden nodes in the CS application. By combining the different input and outputs you get what you might call AI, whereas Siri is 'just' speech recognition. – JJ for Transparency and Monica Mar 20 '18 at 19:58

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