Building the Smartest and Open Virtual Assistant to Protect Privacy

Monica Lam, Stanford University

Virtual assistants, providing a voice interface to web services and IoTs, can potentially develop into monopolistic platforms that threaten consumer privacy and open competition. This talk presents Almond as an open-source alternative.

Unlike existing commercial assistants, Almond can be programmed in natural language to perform new tasks. It lets users control who, what, when, where, and how their data are to be shared, all without disclosure to a third party.

Almond has a Write-Once-Run-Anywhere (WORA) skill platform: skills need to be written only once and can run automatically on other assistants. This helps level the playing field for new assistants.

Finally, Almond’s open-source technologies enable non-ML experts to develop natural language capabilities in their domains of interest. Through open-world collaboration, Almond can become the smartest virtual assistant.

Speaker Biography

Monica Lam is a Professor in the Computer Science Department at Stanford University since 1988. She received a B.Sc. from University of British Columbia in 1980 and a Ph.D. in Computer Science from Carnegie Mellon University in 1987. Monica is a Member of the National Academy of Engineering and Association of Computing Machinery (ACM) Fellow. She is a co-author of the popular text Compilers, Principles, Techniques, and Tools (2nd Edition), also known as Dragon book. She is the PI of the NSF Research Award “Autonomy and Privacy with Open Federated Virtual Assistants”. This project combines machine learning, natural language processing, programming systems, distributed systems, human-computer interaction, blockchain technology to create an open-source assistant that promotes consumer privacy and open competition. Her Almond research project is the first virtual assistant that lets users share their digital assets easily in natural language, without disclosing any information to a third party.