Digital Assistants in Everyday Life

Technology has become so seamlessly integrated within modern lifestyles that you probably don’t even realize how often you use it. 

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You may think a personal assistant is a luxury just for high powered business people, but if you have ever asked Siri what the weather was going to be like tomorrow, or told Alexa to text your mother and let her know you’re running late, you’ve enlisted the help of a digital assistant. 

Voice Recognition to Virtual Assistance

Perhaps the largest triumph of digital assistants, their ability to recognize speech, was the first aspect of the technology to be developed. IBM developed its “shoebox” in the early 1960s, a tool that could recognize 16 different words and numbers. 

Artificial intelligence technology made some major leaps and bounds in the 50 years that followed, and IBM’s Watson (a much further developed version of speech recognition) won Jeopardy in 2011. Apple launched Siri the same year, and the world quickly became familiar with the idea of a digital assistant. 

Foreign Concept to Fast Friend

When Siri was first released less than 10 years ago, the idea that you could speak into your phone and receive answers to specific questions was still a little baffling for most. Now, estimates say that 1.6 billion people will be using digital assistants in their daily life by 2021. 

Today, some of the most well known virtual assistants on the market are Siri, Amazon’s Alexa, Google Now, and Microsoft’s Cortana. For the most part, these digital assistants sit quietly in the home until prompted with a specific phrase, like “Okay Google,” or simply “Alexa,” to make them up. 

Some of these assistants are programmed to only recognize certain voices, and can be integrated with the users’ other technology, like cell phones or smart home applications. For example, you might be able to use your digital assistant to craft an email, or turn off the lights in your kitchen. 

These assistants couple speech recognition with information gathering algorithms to provide a wide range of digital services. As the technology broadens, coming years will likely see virtual assistants who can make dinner reservations, or seek out airplane tickets. This signifies a more complex, multi-step level of computing within the technology. 

The Future of Artificial Relationships

The use of digital assistants has certainly prompted commentary and questions in pop culture. A 2013 movie called Her explored just how deep relationships with digital companions might run, should AI reach a point of near-human likeness, and what that could mean for human emotions. 

The movie received critical acclaim, and begged the question: is the world headed in a direction where the lines between organic and artificial life are blurred? Are digital assistants the first step in the process?

For now, virtual assistants remain an increasingly useful asset in most people’s lives, but they haven’t made the leap to actual companions just yet.