Stanford University’s Open Virtual Assistant Lab (OVAL) has renamed its assistant Almond to Genie. The name of the open-source virtual assistant now matches the conversational technology underlying the platform since its launch in 2018.
Genie (and Almond) were designed as an alternative to Alexa, Google Assistant, and other common voice assistants. Stanford computer systems designer Dr. Monica Lam created OVAL to create a decentralized virtual assistant that stored and shared information based on user preferences, without a mandate from a company. Almond’s success led to discussions of a rebrand to go along with making a commercial product from the academic experience. The group wanted to come up with a word that would be useful regardless of the language spoken, thus accommodating international users. The researchers considered other names, such as Coco, Mario, and Nico, before choosing Genie as the best option, unrelated to the virtual assistant Genie developed by Disney for its theme parks and resorts or the assistant voice Tmall Genie from Alibaba.
“Previously, Genie was the name of the conversational technology and Almond was the assistant,” OVAL member Giovanni Campagna explained in a post on the group’s forum. “From now on, Genie will refer to both, and to the project as a whole. It was the easiest option to choose a single name for all aspects of the project.
OVAL works with a mix of companies and individual developers to continually improve the platform. They all share a Wiki-style database called Thingpedia to share ideas and find ways for tech developers to connect their devices and apps to Genie. The software is already free for computers, smartphones and Internet of Things devices. The popularity of virtual assistants has only highlighted concerns about leaving a small number of companies in control of large amounts of personal information. As more people use voice assistants in more ways and connect them to more of their lives, the privacy options offered by companies to ease their worries aren’t always enough. The creators of Genie hope that those who want to use a virtual assistant without worrying about privacy will turn to Genie.
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