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The rise of virtual assistants

November 5, 2020
virtual assistant

As innovation becomes more widespread so too does the adoption of virtual assistants by businesses looking to increase engagement and productivity.

Much of the success of virtual assistants (VAs) boils down to improvements in technology. Artificial intelligence (AI) in particular has allowed the development of different types of  virtual assistants including virtual personal assistants (VPAs), virtual customer assistants (VCAs) and virtual employee assistants (VEAs).

According to leading research and advisory company Gartner, 25% of digital workers will use a VEA daily by 2021, up from less than 2% in 2019.

While the majority of VAs are currently text-based, voice interfaces are growing in popularity. By 2023, Gartner predicts that 25% of employee interactions will be voice-based communications.

What is virtual assistant technology?

An intelligent virtual assistant, also called AI assistant, is an application program that understands natural language voice commands and completes tasks for the user. VAs leverage deep neural networks, machine learning, artificial intelligence and cloud technology.

Although widespread adoption of VEAs is not expected immediately, virtual assistants, currently used in the likes of the IT and customer service sectors, are more common and offer a range of functionalities.

VAs range from simple to complex. Simple virtual assistants involve applications that use a ‘command and control’ method. This might mean that you give the assistant a simple command like ‘making a phone call’, and the application executes it.

The more complex systems enhance interactions. Fully conversational virtual assistants are not yet developed at scale but there are interesting projects seeking to change this. The Alexa Prize for example, is a global competition for university students dedicated to accelerating the field of conversational AI.

The most popular virtual assistants

Today, VA’s work by recording the user commands, and then sends this voice recording to a cloud processor that identifies the user intention. The most popular voice-controlled services include but are not limited to:

  1. Google Assistant
    Google Assistant works on any operating system. The voice activated software can manage simple queries from checking the weather to making phone calls. The application can also have the information translated into different languages. Google has additional features that can connect with smart devices in the office or at home.
  2. Cortana 
    Cortana is a Windows virtual assistant application. It works on Windows operating systems, as well as other platforms. You can use it like Google Assistant. It’s possible to set up reminders and make simple queries. The application also integrates well with calendars, making it a perfect office companion.
  3. Siri
    Apple iOS comes with Siri, one of the frontrunners when it comes to virtual assistant technology. Siri is another voice-activated system that helps users make calls, set reminders and search for information. Siri also responds to different languages and you’re able to choose between a male and female voice. 
  4. Nina 
    Nina is marketed as a ‘human-like’ virtual assistant and is often used in the self-service industry because it allows for intelligent automated conversations. The focus is on producing more accurate and intuitive conversations over time via the training of systems and machine learning technology. 
  5. VIV 
    VIV is considered a newcomer to the industry. It’s an open artificial intelligence platform allowing third-party developers to use the code in their own development of virtual assistant services. The application can understand sophisticated language and benefits from machine learning capabilities. You can use the technology on a variety of platforms, including phones, TVs and cars!

The future of VAs

The rise of virtual assistants has been fast yet relatively recent. As Gartner’s findings show, virtual assistants will become increasingly mainstream in the world of business, helping to advance the way we work. Improvements in AI technology will eventually enhance how VAs operate. We should expect  next-generation assistants to become:

  • More customised – organisations can create customised interactions that improve the user experience. Customisation can vary from simple things like adapting the voice and language chosen to how the assistants react and talk back
  • More context sensitive – virtual assistants can leverage context to inform actions. The aim is to make it easier for people to accomplish what they want, on any device.
  • More conversational – the ability of virtual assistants to hold conversations will continue to improve. Artificial intelligence will enable systems to have more meaningful and longer interactionsagic happen.

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