Today, artificial intelligence (AI) is helping the common man enjoy the luxury of an assistant that is always present by their side, at their beck and call. This assistant may not be human, but it can still understand spoken commands and fulfill them instantly. These AI-driven assistants are known as voice assistants.
Voice assistant applications can perform a range of actions after a ‘wake command’ is spoken. Some functionalities include turning on lights, answering questions, playing music, and placing e-commerce orders. As advances take place in the voice assistant space, their utility is bound to increase in both the personal and business segments.
What Is A Voice Assistant?
Voice assistants come in many forms. These assistants all perform the same basic function—listening to human speech and responding with an appropriate action. The types of voice assistants include:
Intelligent Personal Assistant
Intelligent personal assistants assist people with everyday tasks by relying on natural language processing (NLP). These assistants can search the Internet for answers to users’ questions and perform other simple tasks. Their actions can be triggered either over text or by voice. Automated personal assistant is another term for intelligent personal assistant.
Smart assistants operate through devices that can perform numerous tasks through in-built smart speakers. They continuously listen for a ‘wake word’ in order to activate their full listening capabilities and then perform the requested task. Google Home, Amazon Echo, and Apple HomePod are a few popular smart assistants.
Virtual Digital Assistants
Similar to intelligent personal assistants, virtual digital assistants rely on NLP to communicate with humans either through text or voice. However, these automated software applications provide assistance in specialized fields, such as finance or healthcare. They may be found on the website or mobile app of an enterprise, such as a clinic or a bank.
Where Are Voice Assistants Used?
Today, several smart devices feature an integrated voice assistant, including smartphones and smart speakers. The presence of voice assistants is also seen in mobile apps and operating systems. As the technology progresses, the existence of voice assistants is also being seen in cars, as well as in education, retail, telecommunications, and healthcare environments. As technology advances rapidly, the voice assistant space is successfully keeping up. Today, thousands of people use voice to interact with different iterations of AI technology by “conversing” with them.
What Are Some Popular Voice Assistants?
Apple’s popular Siri voice app was the first digital voice assistant to be standardized over the smartphone platform. It was seen on the iPhone 4s, which was released in 2011. Today, Siri is also available over the smart speaker platform through the HomePod, which debuted in 2018.
Earlier known as ‘Google Now,’ Google Assistant operates on the Android operating system. While it is also present on Apple’s iOS, its functionality there is limited.
AI-driven voice applications, such as Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant, can also be used through smart speakers such as Amazon Echo and Google Home. They work by listening to voice commands and executing the requested actions. These solutions are activated by speaking a ‘wake word.’
Other popular solutions
Samsung Bixby, IBM Watson, and Microsoft Cortana are other popular voice assistants. Their range of functionality differs based on the platform that they are being used on.
The Mechanics Behind AI Assistants
Over the years, the way technology interacts with people has evolved. For instance, search engines needed very specific terms in order to return relevant results. Today, it’s almost as if they can read our minds! This is because AI-powered engines are able to understand intent and context. Voice assistants are not far behind and operate efficiently when executing familiar commands.
Smart apps and speakers are constantly listening and can be activated by uttering their wake word. Wake words leverage an advanced algorithm that responds to a particular phrase so that the device can begin sending data to a server in order to process the spoken request. Wake words are usually distinct, easy to say for humans, and simple to recognize for a machine. This is the reason for most voice assistants not allowing users to customize the wake word.
At their core, voice assistants are not able to “understand” human speech like humans do; rather, they listen for their wake word and immediately send the user’s command to a remote server, which processes it and sends a response for the machine to relay to the human using its synthesized voice. AI voice solutions use NLP to ‘interpret’ human language for this purpose.
Where Are Voice Assistants Headed?
Every year, the number of users for voice assistants is growing. According to a report titled ‘the Voicebot Smart Speaker Consumer Adoption Report 2018,’ one in ten people who did not own an AI-powered smart speaker planned on purchasing one. Smart speakers are seeing expanding demand across the world, which means that they need to “learn” different languages, dialects, slang, accents, and nuances according to the regions in which they are being sold.
Voice assistants are in a constant state of “learning,” and AI companies leverage the data gained from existing users to improve the capabilities of these assistants. As this technology sees progress, AI capabilities may allow smart speakers to display emotion and even think for themselves without having to be scripted by humans. However, one thing is for certain: Voice assistants will grow and are here to stay.