A virtual assistant, also known as an AI assistant or digital assistant, is an application program that understands natural language voice commands and performs tasks for the user.
These tasks, historically performed by a personal assistant or secretary, include taking dictation, reading text or email messages aloud, looking up phone numbers, scheduling, making phone calls, and go to the end user. Popular virtual assistants currently include Amazon AlexaApple’s Siri, Google Assistant and Microsoft’s Cortana, the digital assistant built into Windows Phone 8.1 and Windows 10.
Types of virtual assistants
Although this definition focuses on the digital form of virtual assistants, the term virtual assistantor virtual personal assistant, is also commonly used to describe contract workers who work from home to perform administrative tasks typically performed by executive assistants or secretaries.
Virtual assistants can also be contrasted with another type of consumer-facing AI programming called smart advisors. Smart advisor programs are topic-oriented, while virtual assistants are task-oriented.
Virtual Assistant Devices and Technology
Virtual assistants are typically cloud-based programs that require internet-connected devices and/or apps to work. Three of these apps are Siri on Apple devices, Cortana on Microsoft devices, and Google Assistant on Android devices.
There are also devices dedicated to virtual assistance. The most popular are available on Amazon, Google and Microsoft. To use the Amazon Echo virtual assistant, called Alexa, users call the wake word, “Alexa.” A light on the device signals the user that they are ready to receive a command, which usually involves simple language queries, such as “what’s the weather like today” or “play pop music”. These requests are processed and stored in the Amazon cloud.
The technologies that power virtual assistants require massive amounts of data, which powers artificial intelligence (AI) platforms, including machine learning, natural language processing, and speech recognition platforms. When the end user interacts with a virtual assistant, the AI programming uses algorithms to learn from data entry and better predict end-user needs.
Virtual Assistant Capabilities
Virtual assistants typically perform simple tasks for end users, such as adding tasks to a schedule; provide information that would normally be sought in a web browser; or check and verify the condition of smart home appliances, including lights, cameras and thermostats.
Users also instruct virtual assistants to make and receive phone calls, create text messages, get directions, listen to news and weather reports, find hotels or restaurants, check reservations for flying, listening to music or playing games.
Virtual Assistant Privacy Issues
Some consumers have expressed privacy concerns about virtual assistants, such as Amazon Alexa and Google Home, because these virtual assistants require large amounts of personal data and are always “listening” in order to respond to voice commands . Virtual assistants then retain voice interactions and personal information to improve the user experience.
Cortana, for example, works best using data from a user’s device, including email and other communications, a user’s contacts, location data, search history, and data other Microsoft services and skills (third-party applications) that users choose. to log in. Users can choose not to connect and share this data with Cortana, and adjust permissions to prevent certain data from being collected, though these actions limit the virtual assistant’s usefulness.
Virtual assistant providers also maintain privacy policies, which define how each company uses and shares personal information. In most cases, companies do not share customer-identifying information without the customer’s consent.
The future of virtual assistants
Virtual assistants are rapidly evolving to provide more functionality and value to users. As speech recognition and natural language processing advances, a virtual assistant’s ability to understand and execute requests will also increase. And as voice recognition technology improves, virtual assistant usage will become more integrated into business workflows.
Tomorrow’s virtual assistants will be built with more advanced cognitive computing technologies, which will allow a virtual assistant to understand and perform multi-step queries and perform more complex tasks, such as making an airplane reservation .