1968 Hal 9000
2001: A Space Odyssey's supercomputer sets the bar: Hal could interpret emotions, anticipate requests, and co-opt systems on an interplanetary voyage.
Jaguar and Genentech still use this virtual and physical concierge service, which handles everything from housecleaning to hotel arrangements via phone or email.
"Portico, take a message." Billed as the "electronic equivalent of an executive assistant," General Magic's software let busy users access the Web and email through voice commands. Apple, GM, and Microsoft invested, but the company closed in 2002.
2000 Quixi Connect
Offering flesh-and-blood help where chips and algorithms floundered, this subscription-based service was like 411 on steroids: giving directions, calling contacts, and recommending restaurants.
2005 Rearden Personal Assistant
Like a seasoned assistant, this Web and smartphone app juggles preferences, company policies, and meeting context to book services. American Express and JPMorgan Chase have both invested.
This free smartphone app understands plain English ("Get me tickets to that Matt Damon movie"), and taps services including Fandango, OpenTable, and Yelp to complete tasks independently.
A version of this article appeared in the May 2010 issue of Fast Company magazine.