Siri-ously Speaking: Virtual Assistants are Redesigning the World

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The mass adoption of virtual assistant (VA) artificial intelligence technology has transformed science-fictional talking computers and robots into an everyday phenomenon. From ordering you a meal to reading weather forecasts, virtual assistants like Alexa and Cortana can do numerous things to seamlessly blend into your life. Siri, launched by Apple in 2011, is the first known virtual assistant of the world who brought the technology within the reach of anyone who holds an Apple phone. Over the past decade technology giants have increased real-world application of VA by leaps and bounds through digital assistants like Alexa, Okay Google, and Cortana.

In praise of the VAs

Research, especially for kids today, has taken on a different meaning. Alexa, Cortana and Siri are summoned for anything from knowing the weather, to homework questions on just about anything.

These have become the new-age teachers running immersive virtual classrooms. Of course, they cannot replace real classroom experiences and the mentoring abilities of human teachers.. However, both learners and teachers can benefit immensely from the host of features that voice assistants offer.

And they are coming to the rescue.

Take eyestrain, for instance. It’s a common physical health issue people face in e-learning, which can be mitigated by reducing screen-time. Voice assistants can be used to perform simple calculations, improve vocabulary and literacy skills, translating and spelling out words and phrases from one language to another among other functions. Teachers can make time for research and development by assigning virtual assistants to streamline tasks such as scheduling tests and assignments and setting reminders for classes and submissions.

Learners can prepare for tests better using Alexa Skills Blueprint which allows users to generate flashcards for free. The flashcard skill technology uses audio-based technology to help learners study using voice thereby ensuring learners do not misread any number and text. Learns can create and maintain multiple flashcards under different subjects, which the application keeps organized.

Alexa, get on with the coffee.

Virtual assistants have found an important and impressive place inside smart homes. And they are doing jobs that humans are just too lazy to do. In a smart, Siri-dependant home, for instance, you can tell Siri to turn off the lights after you tuck into bed, or get Alexa to turn on the coffee machine as you get out of the shower.

From controlling thermostats to making coffee, many appliances can be controlled virtually at your command iOS- and android-based home appliances are allowing voice assistants to be more useful in day-to-day life, thereby also blending seamlessly into our lives.

Voice assistants are already an integral part of workplaces offering support by taking notes, sending emails, organizing and managing events, and setting up business meetings and calls. Businesses can also use Alexa Skills to develop voice-enabled applications for internal tasks, such as monitor IT infrastructure, locate assets, and more, accessible only to members on company devices.

The caring side

Siri and Alexa are already part of several hospital patient care delivery plans. Some of the AI-powered care activities include monitoring high-risk patients like the elderly and organizing home delivery for prescriptions. Owing to a partnership with Omron Healthcare, Alexa can also help with reading and monitoring blood pressure and calculate average and set reminders for tests and check-ups.

A Mid-Atlantic–based hospital collaborated with technology giant IBM to create speakers with natural language skills and cognitive computing to improve inpatient experience. The hospital wanted to make sure its patients never felt ignored or lonely. Patients can use the voice assistants to operate the light switch and window blinds, enquire staff availability and make appointments, and more. The hospital found that the speakers helped patients feel empowered during their stay at the facility.

Man and the Machine

Virtual assistants, thus, are the new companions. From responding to text messages or while driving to welcoming you home with a pleasing voice – VAs are increasingly becoming human. They are getting smarter every day and are able to converse intuitively thanks to cognitive computing technologies.

The future will bring a companionship between humans and machines. It’s time to accept that idea and use it to our advantage.

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