In 2018, at the Integrate Expo in Sydney, I listened to a presentation by futurist Rich Green where he spoke about how voice-activated digital assistants are the way of the future and will soon have the ability to optimise our lives similar to Jarvis from Iron Man.
Although this idea might seem far-fetched, Apple’s digital assistant Siri already has strong enough voice recognition and neural nets to read e-mails to users, help organise to-do lists, schedule calendar appointments, respond to text messages and recite the day’s schedule through voice activation.
And companies are already developing digital assistants for business environments that can take notes in meetings, record meetings, bring up relevant documents being discussed, interject facts, answer questions and send meeting summaries1.
Early adopters have even begun embracing voice-activated digital assistants to automate meeting coordination, connect with customers, manage infrastructure and gather data2.
Yet this is only scratching the surface of the possibilities of digital assistants.
According to experts, the digital assistants of the future will be able to interpret complex requests, predict what their user needs and integrate with all smart devices3. As a result, co-founder of Siri, Adam Cheyer, predicts that digital assistants will eventually become our primary means of interacting with computers and information both at home and at work4.
Gartner forecasts that this will start to occur within the next couple of years, when 30% of all web browsing and half of all searches will be done without a screen5 . By 2025, up to 25% of employee interactions with applications will be via voice6.
As advances in machine learning continue, digital assistants will become personalised to the user, whether this is an individual or a company, and will be able to deliver insights into business processes. They will also provide proactive reporting, on-demand interaction and automated task execution, without the need for dashboards or logins, fundamentally changing the way businesses operate7.
Additionally, voice activation will be used to replace work conducted with a screen, keyboard and mouse with spoken conversation with a digital assistant in some industries, freeing up hands for other duties8.
“More than simply a conversational UX [user experience], this cognitive helper would become a powerful recommendation engine enabling a natural conversation channel for business users to engage with their… software,” writes AppDynamics previous Director of Product Development Harish Doddala.
Just as text-based searches have improved in recent years thanks to the semantic search technique, which can determine context and intent, voice-activated digital assistants are getting better at understanding casual conversation queries9. Further enhancement of this ability will be vital to the successful integration of the technology into workplaces.
Currently, it’s difficult to find worker-focused voice-activated digital assistant case studies as most applications are customer-facing, e.g. chatbots.
However, experts point out that digital assistant use cases will probably follow the same curve as employee-facing mobile apps, which took several years after the modern mobile app craze to emerge10.
So even though they remain limited in business use today, digital assistants are an emerging technology that are worth keeping an eye on. After all, a lot of people dismissed the iPhone when it was first released and look at it now.
Author: Adelle King
1 Elgan, M 2018, 'How voice technology will re-shape business', ComputerWorld viewed 10 April, <https://www.computerworld.com/article/3294987/how-voice-technology-will-re-shape-business.html>.
2 Cox, L 2018, '5 Business Uses Of Voice Based Virtual Assistants', Disruption, viewed 10 April, <https://disruptionhub.com/5-business-uses-of-voice-based-virtual-assistants>.
3 Smith, M 2017, 'What are the benefits of virtual assistants for business?', Telegraph, viewed 10 April, <https://www.telegraph.co.uk/connect/small-business/tech/the-benefits-of-virtual-assistants-for-business>.
4 Bogle, A 2017, 'Siri's creator says virtual assistants will know you intimately. But can we trust them?', ABC, viewed 10 April, <https://www.abc.net.au/news/science/2017-12-29/siri-creator-adam-cheyer-can-we-trust-virtual-assistants/9273920>.
5 Elgan, M 2018, 'How voice technology will re-shape business', ComputerWorld viewed 10 April, <https://www.computerworld.com/article/3294987/how-voice-technology-will-re-shape-business.html>.
6 Davis, J 2019, 'Voice Assistants Coming to the Enterprise', InformationWeek, viewed 10 April, <https://www.informationweek.com/strategic-cio/it-strategy/voice-assistants-coming-to-the-enterprise/d/d-id/1333642>.
7 Doddala, H 2018, 'The Virtual Assistant is the Future of Business', AppDynamics, viewed 10 April, <https://blog.appdynamics.com/product/the-virtual-assistant-is-the-future-of-business>.
8 Elgan, M 2018, 'How voice technology will re-shape business', ComputerWorld viewed 10 April, <https://www.computerworld.com/article/3294987/how-voice-technology-will-re-shape-business.html>.
9 Watson, C 2019, 'AI and the future of work', The Stand - University of Wollongong, viewed 10 April, <https://stand.uow.edu.au/ai-and-the-future-of-work>.
10 Johnson, K 2018, 'Are digital assistants ready for serious enterprise use yet?', BrianMadden, viewed 10 April, <https://www.brianmadden.com/opinion/Are-digital-assistants-ready-for-serious-enterprise-use-yet>.
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