Virtual assistant

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History and Evolution of Virtual Assistants
– Radio Rex, the first voice-activated toy, was patented in 1916 and released in 1922.
– Bell Labs presented Audrey, the Automatic Digit Recognition machine, in 1952.
– The IBM Shoebox voice-activated calculator, launched in 1961, could recognize 16 spoken words and digits.
– MIT professor Joseph Weizenbaum developed the chatbot ELIZA in the 1960s.
– The Carnegie Mellon University developed Harpy in the 1970s, which could understand sentences and reduce speech recognition errors.
– Digital speech recognition technology became a feature of personal computers in the 1990s.
– IBM Simon, the first smartphone, was launched in 1994.
– Dragon’s Naturally Speaking software could recognize and transcribe natural human speech in 1997.
– SmarterChild, a text-based virtual assistant, was launched in 2001.
– Siri, the first modern digital virtual assistant on a smartphone, was introduced in 2011.
– AI systems like ChatGPT gained popularity in the 2020s for generating human-like responses.
– Microsoft introduced Turing Natural Language Generation (T-NLG) in February 2020.
– ChatGPT, launched in November 2022, received attention for its detailed and articulate responses.
Google introduced Bard, an experimental service based on LaMDA, in February 2023.
– The advent of ChatGPT increased interest and competition in the virtual assistant space.
– The number of frequent users of virtual assistants is estimated to be around 1 billion worldwide.
– The market for speech recognition technology is predicted to grow at a CAGR of 34.9% globally, surpassing a market size of $7.5 billion by 2024.
– The native digital assistant installed base is projected to exceed the world’s population by 2021, with Google Assistant dominating the market.

Method of Interaction and Devices
– Virtual assistants work via text, voice, and images.
– Text-based communication channels include online chat, SMS, and email.
– Voice interaction is possible through devices like Amazon Echo, iPhone, Android devices, and Samsung devices.
– Some virtual assistants can process images to recognize objects.
– Virtual assistants use natural language processing and artificial intelligence techniques.
– Virtual assistants can be found in smart speakers like Amazon Echo, Google Home, and Apple HomePod.
– They are integrated into instant messaging applications on smartphones and the web.
– They are built into mobile and desktop operating systems.
– Virtual assistants are also found in smartphones and specific organizations’ instant messaging platforms and mobile apps.
– They can be integrated into appliances, cars, and wearable technology.

Services and Applications
– Virtual assistants can provide information, set alarms, and make to-do and shopping lists.
– They can play music, radio stations, and audiobooks from streaming services.
– Virtual assistants can play videos and TV shows from streaming platforms.
– They can assist in public interactions with the government.
– Virtual assistants can complement or replace human customer service specialists in various domains.
– Conversational commerce refers to e-commerce through messaging platforms and voice assistants.
– It includes live chat on e-commerce websites and messaging applications like WeChat and Facebook Messenger.
– Chatbots on messaging platforms and websites also enable conversational commerce.
– Virtual assistants can work with customer support teams to provide 24×7 support.
– They offer quick responses, enhancing the customer experience.
– Amazon enables Alexa Skills and Google Actions, which are applications running on assistant platforms.

Privacy and Ethics
– Virtual assistants have privacy concerns, especially with features like activation by voice.
– Privacy modes, such as virtual security buttons, have been proposed to enhance privacy.
Google Assistant’s privacy policy states that audio data is not stored without user permission.
Google Assistant may store conversation transcripts for personalization, which can be turned off.
– Amazon’s Alexa privacy policy states that it only listens to conversations after the wake word is used.
– Alexa records conversations and sends them to the cloud, but users can delete them.
– Apple’s Siri uses transcripts instead of recording audio, and users can opt out of sending transcripts to the cloud.
– Consumers providing free data for training virtual assistants without their knowledge raises ethical concerns.
– The training of artificial intelligence via neural networks requires human labeling through microwork, causing job insecurity and lack of regulation.
– Virtual assistants and their designers spur job insecurity and are dependent on the microwork of human workers.
– Privacy concerns arise from unencrypted voice commands and the potential misuse of personal information.
– Voice commands can contain implicit information about biometric identity, personality traits, and other personal details.

Controversies and Criticisms
– Virtual assistants algorithms create filter bubbles, isolating users into their own intellectual bubble and reinforcing their opinions.
– Virtual assistants are criticized for being overrated and not truly intelligent or artificial.
– Virtual assistants rely on human labelization through micro working, which raises ethical concerns about job insecurity and lack of regulation.
– Privacy concerns arise from unencrypted voice commands that can be shared with third parties and contain personal information.
– Voice characteristics and manner of expression can implicitly reveal biometric identity, personality traits, and other personal details.

Virtual assistant (Wikipedia)

A virtual assistant (VA) is a software agent that can perform a range of tasks or services for a user based on user input such as commands or questions, including verbal ones. Such technologies often incorporate chatbot capabilities to simulate human conversation, such as via online chat, to facilitate interaction with their users. The interaction may be via text, graphical interface, or voice - as some virtual assistants are able to interpret human speech and respond via synthesized voices.

Google Assistant running on a Pixel XL smartphone

In many cases users can ask their virtual assistants questions, control home automation devices and media playback, and manage other basic tasks such as email, to-do lists, and calendars - all with verbal commands. In recent years, prominent virtual assistants for direct consumer use have included Apple's Siri, Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant, and Samsung's Bixby. Also, companies in various industries often incorporate some kind of virtual assistant technology into their customer service or support.

Recently, the emergence of recent artificial intelligence based chatbots, such as ChatGPT, has brought increased capability and interest to the field of virtual assistant products and services.

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