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NIO's digital assistant, Nomi, uses AI technology to help drivers. Photo: NIO

Some people like to name their cars (we called our old minivan "Chad" and my daughter's sedan is named "Trudy"). With the help of digital voice assistants, cars now are starting to take on their own personalities.

Why it matters: Using voice commands, rather than a touchscreen, can make cars safer by helping drivers keep their eyes on the road and hands on the wheel. But most early voice technologies have been disappointing or downright frustrating to use while driving.

What's happening: Advances in natural language processing and artificial intelligence are transforming the in-car experience.

  • Amazon is partnering with a growing list of automakers, including GM and Audi, to embed its Alexa digital assistant in their vehicles; drivers can ask her to do everything from play music to roll down the windows.
  • Ann Arbor, Mich.-based start-up Clinc's natural voice technology lets users speak conversationally to their car, using AI to understand the context and anticipate their needs.

It's easier to talk to your vehicle when it has a personality.

  • "Personality has to be proactive. Right now [voice assistants in the car] only interact when you interact with them ... human beings that do that aren't very engaging," Brian Rider, head of automobility at Clinc, said during a panel I moderated this week at Automobility LA.

For an engaging personality, check out this video of Nomi, the AI assistant from Chinese-American electric carmaker, NIO.

  • Engineers wanted Nomi to be engaging, but not intrusive, Tao Liang, NIO's director of machine learning, told me onstage.
  • That's why it only has eyes, and not full facial features.
  • Even so, it's cute as a button.

Go deeper

Symone Sanders leaving VP's office

Vice President Kamala Harris and her press secretary Symone Sanders. Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

Symone Sanders, senior advisor and chief spokesperson to Vice President Kamala Harris, is leaving the VP’s office by the end of this year, three White House officials told Axios on Wednesday.

Why it matters: The VP has faced an onslaught of criticism in her first year centered on her leadership and staff, adding to the suggestion, she’s not the Democratic Party’s preferred nominee for 2024.

Bryan Walsh, author of Future
Updated 3 hours ago - Health

Omicron travel bans are sign of what's to come

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

The travel bans and border closures prompted by the Omicron variant likely won't fully prevent its spread, but that won't stop countries from leaning on the measures.

Why it matters: The rapid speed at which countries turned to travel bans with the emergence of Omicron indicates border controls will increasingly become a weapon against infectious disease — whether or not public health experts agree they are effective.

3 hours ago - Politics & Policy

GOP fights itself on shutdown politics

Reporters question Senate Minority Whip John Thune before the Republican Party's weekly lunch on Tuesday. Photo: Kent Nishimura/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

GOP leaders on Capitol Hill are scrambling to reach a deal with a bloc of 15 Senate Republicans threatening a government shutdown to force a fight over the Biden administration's vaccine mandates.

Why it matters: The push to defund the mandates — by holding the short-term government funding bill hostageis largely symbolic, and highly controversial within the Republican Party. A shutdown as early as midnight Friday could trigger everything from national park closures to delays in receiving Social Security checks.