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Cisco Developing 'Monica' Digital Assistant

Mitch Wagner

Amazon's Alexa and Apple's Siri are getting a sister: A voice-activated digital assistant named "Monica," who will live at the office and is designed for business.

Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO) is introducing Monica in beta in some of its video endpoints. Like Alexa, Siri and Microsoft's Cortana, you speak to Monica in natural language, and the intelligent assistant answers a question or performs a task.

Initially, Monica will be available in Cisco's telepresence systems, where Cisco already installs microphone arrays. "What you can do is walk around the conference room and invoke an agent," says Jens Meggers, Cisco SVP and GM of cloud collaboration. "You can say, 'Hey Monica, who am I meeting with next?' It will show you a meeting and participants." Monica will also be able to find subject matter experts within an organization and call them.

Cisco plans to roll out Monica on all its collaboration touchpoints: Software, the mobile phone, chatbots and more. "It's an intelligent system that lives in the cloud in a video endpoint," Meggers says.

Why "Monica"? Selecting the name of an intelligent assistant for voice recognition is a big deal. The name needs to have phonemes that are easily recognized by the machine, but it shouldn't be too common. That's where the name Monica falls down, and might be replaced when the product goes into production; Monica is too common, shared by many people (including the former White House intern, the singer and the one on the sitcom).

Monica was developed by a research team within Cisco that works on midrange projects. Traditionally, innovation focuses either on immediate product upgrades, or far-out long-range science-fiction prototypes. Cisco wanted a group working on technology that was high-profile and practical, yet not quite ready for prime time.

Further out, Cisco has a long-range vision for Monica as a complete virtual assistant for business, making use of the enterprise's entire store of data. "These artificial intelligences have access to data that gets the job done," Jonathan Rosenberg, Cisco CTO of collaboration. Monica (or whatever she ends up being called) would be able to access the entire "collaboration graph" -- everybody a user has had meeting with, or exchanged messages or shared PowerPoint presentations. "It starts to become smart, like an assistant," Rosenberg says. "You can say, 'I had a meeting with this person three weeks ago. They had PowerPoint slides. Where are those?' And it shares them with you."

In the long-range future, Cisco's vision is that Monica would be able to access financial results, headcount records or product designs and display them on a screen in a meeting room. "These go beyond video conferencing. It's the display screen for the artificial intelligence," Rosenberg said.

Want to know more about the cloud? Visit Light Reading Enterprise Cloud.

He added, "We're investing a lot in bots and integration that allows us to plug third-party systems into Cisco Spark as the first step in the journey to artificial intelligence knowledge systems. That's where this technology goes."

Watch this video for a Monica demo at last month's CiscoLive conference:

Related posts:

— Mitch Wagner, Follow me on TwitterVisit my LinkedIn profile, Editor, Light Reading Enterprise Cloud

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