Automated Online Assistant
Apple TV remote control, with which users can ask Siri virtual assistant to find content to watch
Amazon Echo smart speaker running the Alexa virtual assistant

A virtual assistant is a software agent that can perform tasks or services for an individual. Sometimes the term "chatbot" is used to refer to virtual assistants generally or specifically those accessed by online chat (or in some cases online chat programs that are for entertainment and not useful purposes).

As of 2017, the capabilities and usage of virtual assistants is expanding rapidly, with new products entering the market. An online poll in May 2017 found the most widely used in the US were Apple's Siri (34%), Google Assistant (19%), Amazon Alexa (6%), and Microsoft Cortana (4%).[1]Facebook's M is expected to be available to hundreds of millions on Facebook Messenger in 2017.[2] Apple and Google have large installed bases of users on smartphones and Microsoft has a large installed base of Windows-based personal computers (where Cortana works in addition to phones and smart speakers); meanwhile, Alexa was the first to get the ability to place online e-commerce orders, from Amazon.[2]


The first tool enabled to perform digital speech recognition was the IBM Shoebox, presented to the general public during the 1962 Seattle World's Fair after its initial market launch in 1961. This early computer, developed almost 20 years before the introduction of the first IBM Personal Computer in 1981, was able to recognize 16 spoken words and the digits 0 to 9. The next milestone in the development of voice recognition technology was achieved in the 1970s at the Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania with substantial support of the United States Department of Defense and its DARPA agency. Their tool "Harpy" mastered with about 1000 words the vocabulary of a three-year-old. About ten years later the same group of scientists developed a system that could not only analyze individual words but entire word sequences enabled by the Hidden Markov Model.[3] Thus, the earliest virtual assistants, which applied speech recognition software were automated attendant and medical digital dictation software.[4] In the 1990s digital speech recognition technology became a feature of the personal computer with Microsoft, IBM, Philips and Lernout & Hauspie fighting for customers. Much later the market launch of the first smartphone IBM Simon in 1994 laid the foundation for smart virtual assistants as we know them today.[5] The first modern digital virtual assistant installed on a smartphone was Siri, which was introduced as a feature of the iPhone 4S on October 4, 2011.[6]Apple Inc. developed Siri following the 2010 acquisition of Siri Inc., a spin-off of SRI International, which is a research institute financed by DARPA and the United States Department of Defense.[3]

Method of interaction

Virtual assistants make work via:

Some virtual assistants are accessible via multiple methods, such as Google Assistant via chat on the Google Allo app and via voice on Google Home smart speakers.

Virtual assistants use natural language processing (NLP) to match user text or voice input to executable commands. Many continually learn using artificial intelligence techniques including machine learning.

To activate a virtual assistant using the voice, a wake word might be used. This is a word or groups of words such as "Alexa" or "OK Google".[7]

Devices and objects where found

Virtual assistants may be integrated into many types of platforms or, like Amazon Alexa, across several of them:


Virtual assistants can provide a wide variety of services, and particularly those from Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant grow by the day. These include:[16]

  • Provide information such as weather, facts from e.g. Wikipedia or IMDB, set an alarm, make to-do lists and shopping lists
  • Play music from streaming services such as Spotify and Pandora; play radio stations; read audiobooks
  • Play videos, TV shows or movies on televisions, streaming from e.g. Netflix
  • Buy items from e.g. Amazon
  • Complement and/or replace customer service by humans.[17] One report estimated that an automated online assistant produced a 30% decrease in the work-load for a human-provided call centre.[18]

Third-party services

Amazon enables Alexa "Skills" and Google "Actions", essentially apps that run on the assistant platforms.

Developer platforms

The platforms that power the most widely used virtual assistants are also used to power other solutions:

  • Amazon Lex was opened to developers in April 2017. It involves natural language understanding technology combined with automatic speech recognition and had been introduced in November 2016.[19]
  • Google provides the Actions on Google and platforms for developers to create "Actions" for Google Assistant[20]
  • Apple provides SiriKit for developers to create extensions for Siri
  • IBM's Watson, while sometimes spoken of as a virtual assistant is in fact an entire artificial intelligence platform and community powering some virtual assistants, chatbots, and many other types of solutions.[21]

Previous generations

In previous generations of text chat-based virtual assistants, the assistant was often represented by an avatar of (a.k.a. 'interactive online character or automated character) -- this was known as an embodied agent.

Full comparison of assistants

Intelligent personal assistant Developer Free software Free and open-source hardware HDMI out External I/O IOT Chromecast integration Smart phone app Always on Unit to unit voice channel
Assistant Speaktoit No N/A N/A N/A No No Yes No N/A
Alice Yandex No N/A N/A N/A Yes No Yes Yes N/A
Alexa (a.k.a. Echo) No No No No Yes No Yes Yes  ?
Bixby Samsung Electronics No N/A N/A N/A No No Yes N/A N/A
BlackBerry Assistant BlackBerry Limited No N/A N/A N/A No No Yes No N/A
Braina Brainasoft No N/A N/A N/A No No Yes No N/A
Cadence Cadence studio No N/A N/A N/A N/A No Yes Yes N/A
Cortana Microsoft No N/A N/A N/A Yes No Yes Yes N/A
Evi True Knowledge No N/A N/A N/A No No Yes No N/A
Google Assistant Google No N/A N/A N/A Yes No Yes Yes N/A
Google Now Google No N/A N/A N/A Yes Yes Yes Yes N/A
M Facebook
Mycroft[22] Mycroft AI Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Sherpa Sherpa Europe SL No N/A N/A N/A Yes No Yes Yes N/A
SILVIA Cognitive Code No N/A N/A N/A No No Yes No N/A
Siri Apple Inc. No N/A N/A N/A Yes No Yes Yes N/A
[third-party source needed]
? Yes N/A N/A N/A No No Yes No N/A
Viv Samsung Electronics No N/A N/A N/A Yes No Yes No N/A
Nina Nuance No

Economic relevance

Digital experiences enabled by virtual assistants are considered to be among the major recent technological advances and most promising consumer trends. Experts claim that digital experiences will achieve a status-weight comparable to 'real' experiences, if not become more sought-after and prized.[23] The trend is verified by a high number of frequent users and the substantial growth of worldwide user numbers of virtual digital assistants. In mid-2017, the number of frequent users of digital virtual assistants is estimated to be around 1bn worldwide.[24] In addition, it can be observed that virtual digital assistant technology is no longer restricted to smartphone applications, but present across many industry sectors (incl. automotive, telecommunications, retail, healthcare and education).[25] In response to the significant R&D expenses of firms across all sectors and an increasing implementation of mobile devices, the market for speech recognition technology is predicted to grow at a CAGR of 34.9% globally over the period of 2016 to 2024 and thereby surpass a global market size of USD 7.5 billion by 2024.[25] Taking into consideration the regional distribution of market leaders, North American companies (e.g. Nuance Communications, IBM, eGain) are expected to dominate the industry over the next years, due to the significant impact of BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) and enterprise mobility business models. Furthermore, the increasing demand for smartphone-assisted platforms are expected to further boost the North American Intelligent Virtual Assistant (IVA) industry growth. Despite its smaller size in comparison to the North American market, the intelligent virtual assistant industry from the Asia-Pacific region, with its main players located in India and China is predicted to grow at an annual growth rate of 40% (above global average) over the 2016-2024 period.[25]

See also


  1. ^ Jefferson Graham (2017-06-05). "Apple unveils $349 HomePod to bring voice to home audio". USA Today. 
  2. ^ a b Khari Johnson (2016-12-30). "Amazon won the 2016 chat wars, but Microsoft isn't far behind". VentureBeat. Retrieved . 
  3. ^ a b "Feature: Von IBM Shoebox bis Siri: 50 Jahre Spracherkennung - WELT" [From IBM Shoebox to Siri: 50 years of speech recognition] (in German). 2012-04-20. Retrieved . 
  4. ^ Zwass, Vladimir (2016-02-10). "speech recognition | technology". Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Retrieved . 
  5. ^ "Smartphone: your new personal assistant - Orange Pop". 2016-02-23. Retrieved . 
  6. ^ Darren Murph (2011-10-04). "iPhone 4S hands-on!". Retrieved . 
  7. ^ "S7617 - Developing Your Own Wake Word Engine Just Like 'Alexa' and 'OK Google'". GPU Technology Conference. Retrieved 2017. 
  8. ^ Lynn La (2017-02-27). "Everything Google Assistant can do on the Pixel". CNET. Retrieved . 
  9. ^ Morrison, Maureen (2014-10-05). "Domino's Pitches Voice-Ordering App in Fast-Food First | CMO Strategy". AdAge. Retrieved . 
  10. ^ Dan O'Shea (2017-01-04). "LG introduces smart refrigerator with Amazon Alexa-enabled grocery ordering". Retail Dive. Retrieved . 
  11. ^ Samuel Gibbs (2017-02-07). "Amazon's Alexa escapes the Echo and gets into cars | Technology". The Guardian. Retrieved . 
  12. ^ "What is Google Assistant, how does it work, and which devices offer it?". Pocket-lint. 2017-10-06. Retrieved . 
  13. ^ ""Ask Jenn", Alaska Airlines website". 2017-01-02. Retrieved . 
  14. ^ AT&T Tech Channel (2013-06-26). "American Airlines (US Airways) - First US Airline to Deploy Natural Language Speech" (video), Nuance Enterprise on YouTube. Retrieved . YouTube title: Airline Information System, 1989 - AT&T Archives - speech recognition 
  15. ^ Sayer, Peter (April 20, 2017). "By Djingo, there's a new virtual assistant". PC World. IDG News Service. Retrieved 2017. 
  16. ^ Taylor Martin; David Priest (2017-09-10). "The complete list of Alexa commands so far". CNET. Retrieved . 
  17. ^ Kongthon, Alisa; Sangkeettrakarn, Chatchawal; Kongyoung, Sarawoot; Haruechaiyasak, Choochart (2009-01-01). "Implementing an Online Help Desk System Based on Conversational Agent". Proceedings of the International Conference on Management of Emergent Digital EcoSystems. MEDES '09. New York, NY, USA: ACM: 69:450-69:451. doi:10.1145/1643823.1643908. ISBN 9781605588292. 
  18. ^ Anthony O'Donnell (2010-06-03). "Aetna's new "virtual online assistant"". Insurance & Technology. Archived from the original on 2010-06-07. 
  19. ^ "Amazon Lex, the technology behind Alexa, opens up to developers". TechCrunch. 2017-04-20. Retrieved . 
  20. ^ "Actions on Google | Google Developers". Retrieved . 
  21. ^ "Watson - Stories of how AI and Watson are transforming business and our world". Retrieved . 
  22. ^ Janakiram MSV (20 August 2015). "Meet Mycroft, The Open Source Alternative To Amazon Echo". Forbes. Retrieved 2016. 
  23. ^ "5 Consumer Trends for 2017". TrendWatching. 2016-10-31. Retrieved . 
  24. ^ Felix Richter (2016-08-26). "Chart: Digital Assistants - Always at Your Service". Statista. Retrieved . 
  25. ^ a b c "Virtual Assistant Industry Statistics « Global Market Insights, Inc". 2017-01-30. Retrieved . 

  This article uses material from the Wikipedia page available here. It is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share-Alike License 3.0.



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