[FIN] Is This the End of Siri and Alexa?

Category: Reference

I recently came across an announcement of a new app that promised to be the future of intelligent assistant systems, combining both artificial and human intelligence to deliver a full human-equivalent digital assistant service. Siri, Alexa, Cortana, and Google Assistant would be obsolete. But as I dug into the details, I discovered that this “Fin" seems to be attached to a shark. Read on for the scoop...

Where There's a Fin, There's Probably a Shark

“Everybody needs an assistant,” says the caption on nearly every frame of Fin.com’s four-minute demo video that demonstrates nothing. What’s more, you'll need to pay Fin $120 per week, or more, for an anonymous band of impersonal personal assistants. Also, you'll have to forfeit your right to due process, allow Fin to spam all of your contacts, and - the icing on this cake - hand over the keys to your digital wallets so Fin can do its job.

Fin is the breathtakingly overreaching brainchild of two Silicon Valley bros. Andrew Kortina co-founded Venmo, a free peer-to-peer payment system owned by Paypal. Sam Lessin is a Harvard-educated investment “angel” who’s worked for Bain Capital, held the job of senior product VP at Facebook, and is now - an “intern” at digital news upstart The Information, which was founded by his wife, Jessica. You trust them already, don’t you?

Fin is not at all up-front about how, exactly, it works. The demo video shows Millennials rattling off haphazard wishes to Fin via their smartphones. The major selling point of the four-minute “demo” seems to be that you don’t have to know anything about verbal communication to use it; just start babbling and Fin will figure out what you want, then get it for you. You know, just like Mommy did when you were in diapers.

Fin - the app

Behind the scene, as I gleaned from a tedious white paper, lies a machine-learning algorithm, a database in which Fin stores everything it can learn about you, and some human beings who actually find and book reservations at restaurants you’ve never heard of, buy things using your credit card data, and find a time that’s convenient for both you and your equally busy friend to meet for drinks. These are just a few examples of what Fin claims it can do. Nobody, Fin implies, can do such things for themselves; “everybody needs an assistant.”

How well does Fin work? Not very well, according to a handful of hands-on reviews posted at ProductHunt.com; here’s one example:

“My first request was to send flowers to someone for under $50. The ETA given was 95 minutes. Three hours later I had gotten no feedback. Concerned that I going to end up spending more on the service than the flowers, I asked for a status. I got feedback that the task would take longer but I was only being charged for the active minute. My ETA increased to 10 hours. As I watched the cost balloon up to $38, I cancelled the task.”

That $38 was the cost of Fin’s service, not the flowers that it failed to get ordered after more than three hours. Nowhere is it made clear what “active minutes” are, so assurances that you’ll only be charged $1 for each of them are not so reassuring.

Test Drive Aborted

I started to sign up for Fin, not because I can’t order flowers myself (I run FlowersFast.com an online flower-ordering service, after all), but simply to report on the experience to you.

The very first thing Fin wanted was access to my Google account’s contacts, calendars, and emails, which it wished to “modify” but promised not to delete. Hmmm, those permissions are reasonable for an app that needs to correspond and schedule things on my behalf, so I granted them.

But then, up popped Fin’s EULA (end-user license agreement), privacy policy, and data collection policy, all of which are dense legalese and bewilderingly intertwined. But I read them, and laughed ever louder at these choice bits:

The mandatory arbitration clause is the very first paragraph of the EULA. By accepting the EULA, you forfeit your right to sue Fin, its employees, and its partners no matter what they do. Strike One.

"Fin also uses the Information it collects to send Communications (including letters from our founders and other thought leadership, as well as invitations to use Fin) to others, including people Fin learns about from you." Strike Two. No, Fin, you and your "thought leader" pals are not going to spam me and all of my acquaintances.

coffee spilled on keyboard

"Right of Publicity. You give Fin the right to use your name and photograph in promotional content and Communications sent to people who Fin thinks might be in your network, including invitations to potential Fin users." Strike Three, and Fin owes me a new keyboard!

In some rare cases, there's a Strike Four in baseball. There's also one on the Fin pricing page, which says "most users spend between $500 and $5000/month." Wow... you'd have to eliminate a couple of zeros to even get me to take this for a test drive!

After reading that, I closed the Fin page and immediately went to the Google My Account page. Under “Apps with account access,” I found Fin and removed it. Don’t worry about getting Fin spam with my profile photo on it; the Google account I used does not contain any of my readers’ contact info.

I'm not trying to say that the people behind Shark are dishonest -- just that Fin seems like a non-starter. (Did you know that in French, "fin" means "the end"?)

Fin touts a half-dozen glowing endorsements, all from Silicon Valley startup CEOs and venture capitalists. If anyone can afford and needs Fin, these are exactly the sort of people I would bet on. You and I certainly do not. Your thoughts on this topic are welcome. Post your comment or question below...

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Most recent comments on "[FIN] Is This the End of Siri and Alexa?"

Posted by:

09 Dec 2017

forget it all I an DEAF do not need at all

Posted by:

09 Dec 2017

Really? Your 'headline' is ridiculous. This is not up to your usual standard.I don't have time for catchy phrases that are slightly misleading. Who are you and what did you do with Bob.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Bob has been locked in the basement laboratory for years. Headlines are written by a team of robots that Bob programmed to maximize click-through. Unfortunately, he did his job a bit too well, and we run things around here now.

Posted by:

Richard Alan Dengrove
09 Dec 2017

Forget about the service. Why doesn't someone start a operation where they ask for your money directly and eliminate the middle man?

Posted by:

09 Dec 2017

This is just a guess but I suspect that they have people responding to your voice commands, and probably not very many yet. That would explain the delay and the high price. They want to give you the false impression that their machine learning AI can understand you, but it is probably a person. Obviously that doesn't scale. Maybe they think they can get a user base by impressing people with how well they can figure out what you want and then try to build a real AI system. But I seriously doubt they have the resources to do that let alone compete with Google, Apple, etc.

Posted by:

09 Dec 2017

In fact, looking at their website, "We're using a combination of computer and human intelligence to deliver a personal assistant akin to Samantha from the movie Her." So I suspect the humans are listening and using Google for the computer intelligence.

Posted by:

09 Dec 2017

Oh such a lite heart-ed article, with all we see going on with different flimflam artists these days it is pretty much par for the course and good to know as well.

Thanks, Phil

Posted by:

Koa Feliciano
09 Dec 2017

Did they ask for your bank account number and PIN? If not then they should at it to their EULA as soon as possible. May as well go all the way. Yeah,thanks for the warning on this company, much appreciated.

Posted by:

09 Dec 2017

Anybody who allows the Internet of Things into their life is a fool...

Posted by:

09 Dec 2017

Sorry FIN...I don't need no stinkin' "assistant". I'm perfectly capable of thinking for myself and getting what I want, when I want it. I have Google Assistant and rarely use it, I have Cortana and have it shut off. There's just something creepy about talking to an inanimate object for something just as easily typed in or turned on manually. The internet doesn't rule my life and the older I get, the less it will.

There used to be a joke about contestants on the Newlywed Game selling their souls for a set of Samsonite Luggage, well this is no different, but the "prize" is more ominous. Thanks for the heads up Bob.

Posted by:

09 Dec 2017

Is today April 1st? If these guys made a presentation on "Shark Tank" they'd be laughed right out of the room!

Posted by:

09 Dec 2017

Thank you for the heads up, Mr. Rankin. I am going to keep my shark repellent close by!

Posted by:

Michael Shames
09 Dec 2017

Thanks Bob! I was going to look into it myself and you saved me both time and trouble. I'll be curious to see if Fin can make a go of it given their dubious value proposition.

Posted by:

Jay R
09 Dec 2017

OMG! I am o-fin-ded. Who thinks up this nonsesne? (I know, that's rhetorical.) Haven't people heard about working for a living? There are times that I do thank GOD for being old. Look! Up in the sky. It's a nerd. It's plain. It's Stupidman!

Sigh, key strokes fail me. Thanx, Bob.

Posted by:

09 Dec 2017

WOW - Only stupids would go for $120 a week!!!

Those of us on a Fixed Income would never "bite" the Fin. We will just simply keep plodding along, doing what we have always done and be happy!

These people honestly think this is going to work??? Of course, in time (lots of time) - It will work, but for now - No. Why pay $120 a week, when the alternatives, Siri, Cortana and Google Assistance will do just fine and are free.

Bob, thanks for the head's up on this sorry program. Tee Hee Hee!

Posted by:

09 Dec 2017

I saw the monthly costs... YIKES!

Posted by:

09 Dec 2017

Siri,Cortana, etc. work fine, and are wayyyyyy cheaper. (like free)

Posted by:

David Scanland
09 Dec 2017

What is with the 8 commercials? It looks like Fin already got you and is loading your great news letter with LOTS of unwanted, in your face, commercials.

Posted by:

Greg Sparks
09 Dec 2017

As Jimmy Buffet said, "Fins to the left, fins to the right, and you're the only bait in town."

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