The PC world had one dominant operating system: Microsoft’s Windows. Smartphones have two: Google’s Android and Apple’s iOS. But in the artificial intelligence (AI) future dawning, there are likely to be several. That is the conclusion Amazon and Microsoft have reached, judging from an alliance this week to link their voice-activated digital assistants. Personal computing has traditionally been characterised by a race for platform dominance. The computing world now looks to be devolving, instead, into parallel ecosystems, with the terms on which the separate islands of technology connect an important, open question. So far, the era of voice-controlled computing has been more talk than action. As many who have bought Amazon’s Echo smart speaker can attest, trying to interact with a disembodied intelligence using only the spoken word can be frustrating. But as computing moves into many more pieces of equipment — most of them without screens, keyboards or mice — the digital assistants ...

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