The Future of Digital Assistants


A digital assistant (aka virtual assistant) is an application that understands you when you speak to it. Believe it or not, the first one got invented in 1961 by IBM and called IBM Shoebox. This concept influenced things like voice dialling then appliance control through natural language processing.

Mobile devices are now commonplace and the use of digital assistance is beginning to become old hat. Microsoft has Cortana, Google has Google Now, Samsung has Bixby and of course Apple has Siri. These applications were the next step for voice initiated tasks. I can ask Siri to find me a Korean restaurant nearby and she will show me what she found then get her to call it. I can ask her to tell me her favorite horror movie and although her choice is wrong, it’s still an answer.

Google and Amazon have now overtaken the likes of Siri and Cortana with their improved Google Assistant and Alexa. They can both engage in a two-way conversation and Alexa is currently leading the way by having the most up to date hardware and also over 30,000 skills to choose from. Sure these skills are sometimes redundant and at times as frustrating as giving instructions to Siri but they are improving every day.

Facebook are even about the join the party with their version of assistant called ‘M,’ and it will be available in your messenger. It’s currently been released to Facebook employees to test-run. The exciting thing is though, is M learns from human behavior taught by M trainers. Real people who help M when M can’t figure out what to do. In the meantime, M can organize a dinner party or figure out what to buy for your significant-other.

If you take a look on the internet, there are heaps of articles talking about how digital assistants are overrated, hype and simply a small convenience for consumers overall. Is the introduction of smart speakers and HomePods no more than a fancy way to set a timer or turn the lights on? Perhaps these same opinions forgot that these inventions have made the landline redundant. We don’t need a home phone at all. And if company’s like Facebook are sneaking around in the background training hardware to do things that will blow your mind, I’m certain the rest are going to do so too.

So what if these technologies have their limitations, Amazon has already introduced screens to their range of intelligent smart speakers. It’s now a competition to see who can do voice initiated tasks the best, and I’m excited at what may come next.