Hey Siri: What are AI Virtual Assistants?

Exploring the Rise of Virtual Assistants

Siri, a system that was now released more than 7 years ago, was the first introduction that the public got to the world of voice-controlled AI virtual assistants. Over the last few years, this technology has continued to expand and grow in both the consumer and business space, with new deliveries from Amazon, Google, and Microsoft helping to lead the revolution.

Regardless of whether you call them digital assistants, virtual assistants, or your personal smartphone helper, AI assistants are essentially an application that helps to make your life more efficient and convenient by completing tasks on your behalf. Thanks to machine learning algorithms, a virtual assistant can gradually learn when an office worker usually orders staples for their desk, and place that order for them without any input needed. On the other hand, a consumer virtual assistant like Microsoft Cortana can help people stream movies, connect to games, and download apps with voice commands, rather than clicks.

What Do Virtual Assistants Mean to You?

AI-enhanced virtual assistants can come in many different forms, ranging from solutions on a smartphone or desktop to the components in your smart speaker. What started as a simple application or software tool for taking voice commands gradually transformed into an automation and efficiency tool that’s just as valuable in the business environment as it is in consumer homes. Whether it’s standalone hardware like the Amazon Echo or assistants built into cloud technology, laptops, or smartphones, anyone can access their own clever assistant today.

Importantly, while there is some debate in the professional space about whether robots will eventually take over our jobs, virtual assistants are designed to be tools, not replacements for modern professionals. Like many of the innovations in the AI world, these solutions were designed to automate the mundane tasks that we do each day so that we can spend more time on strategic, interesting, and creative things instead.

How Do Virtual Assistants Differ from Chatbots?

One important distinction to make is that virtual assistants and chatbots aren’t the same things. However, chatbots can offer a very similar experience to virtual assistants, particularly as more of them begin to access the benefits of natural language processing. The scope of a chatbot’s potential is much narrower than that of a virtual assistant, which is often available to support a wide range of use cases and digital experiences.

A good way to look at a chatbot is as a portion of what a virtual assistant can do. While a chatbot might be something that answers calls and answers a few basic questions, a virtual assistant can automatically launch meetings, set up calendar appointments, place orders, and more.

Examples of What a Virtual Assistant Can Do

If you’re still confused about the possibilities of a virtual assistant, the best way to think of them is as a digital version of your receptionist. While a virtual assistant might not be as advanced as a human assistant yet, it can still:

  • Make notes and review your schedule
  • Gather information during meetings and launch conferences
  • Give daily news and weather updates
  • Offer directions to locations
  • Find information to complex queries
  • Place orders and purchase supplies
  • Book travel and make reservations
  • Aggregate tasks into timely blocks

Virtual assistants are an AI app designed to help people use their time more effectively by taking over boring, everyday tasks.

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