Many of us remember the first time we used a voice assistant. Chi Siri, chi Alexa, chi Google Assistant.
The first approaches, with simple sentences and banal requests, made us feel a little embarrassed, in front of friends and family, in using that type of communication with a machine connected to the Internet, a type of interaction usually reserved for others human beings.
The great initial expectations were extinguished almost immediatelyas soon as we understood that the results that could be obtained, especially with the first versions, were really limited: banal tasks such as setting a timer or an alarm, inserting an object into a shopping list, putting on some music or, in more advanced cases, controlling some home automation device such as turning on a light bulb or opening a gate.
When communicating with the machine we also noticed something interesting: the machine often does not understand us and therefore over time we have learned to speak in a way that is more understandable for the machine itself, using minimal sentences, pronouncing the words well and inserting pauses at the right places. In other words: sWe are the ones who have adapted to the machine by impoverishing our language, it is not the machine that has learned to communicate better with us over time. A compromise due to the limitations of the technology, but still a compromise that we can’t wait to overcome.
The good news is that most of these limitations are about to be overcome thanks to the advent of Universal Digital Assistants in the near future.
Let’s imagine having a sort of personal digital butler at our disposal, to be consulted when we need information, when we want to book a service, when we need a generic task to be carried out. An assistant capable of solving our problems, organizing our agenda, providing us with the entertainment that suits us when we feel like it, simplifying our work, suggesting how to respond to an email, when to get up to do two steps or when to stay focused on our tasks.
This, and much more, is what awaits us as soon as the technology of traditional voice assistants is integrated with the functions of understanding and generating content and this ecosystem, in turn, will be integrated with external booking services for trains, hotels, restaurants, with weather services, with local events and with all those services that we can access today in an analogue or digital way.
When these integrations are available we will be able to easily ask one of these assistants “Book trains, hotels and restaurants for me in an art city for one of the next weekends in which there will be good weather and in which there is something to see that I have not yet seen The whole family comes”, having the reasonable certainty that all tasks will be carried out adequately.
These universal assistants will be totally personal because they will have to learn from our habits to serve us better, in the first phase of their use it is possible that they make mistakes or ask for confirmation on how to behave in certain situations, but subsequently, with learning, they will become more and more reliable, exactly like an assistant would do human, improving over time their ability to satisfy our needs.
These learning skills will also be able to understand the detail with which we want to be informed about news, personal emails, professional communications or entertainment content.
The complete understanding of natural language will be reinforced by a complete understanding of context where we are. Saying a simple “Notify me that I’ll be 5 minutes late” can mean notifying the person who is waiting for us at the restaurant, or the team with whom we have the next call, or even the hairdresser with whom we have an appointment. Understanding the context will be an indispensable characteristic to make these machines work best.
One of the features available from the first versions will undoubtedly be the ability to translate in natural language from one language to another, thus also becoming our personal interpreters in real time, allowing us to break down language barriers.
Today the modest virtual assistants we have at our disposal are placed in dedicated devices, think for example of Alexa which “lives” inside Amazon’s Echo devices. However, we have some of these services already available in our smartphone or watch. Our universal digital assistant will be “everywhere”, in the sense that it will be available in any device in our vicinity and will always be the same, always synchronized and operational for us. This feature will be the real killer application of one new generation of smart glasses which, in addition to augmented reality features, will also have our universal digital assistant on board.
Integration with the rest of the world will be limited at first, but soon service providers will be racing to integrate with these new assistants. Refusing integration, or delaying it, will mean giving up a privileged sales channel for content and services, a channel that could quickly become the main one.
The ability to search for information will take a huge step forward compared to what we can get today from classic virtual assistants: algorithms will be able to search for information in real time from different and reliable sources, providing us with updated and accurate answers. However, this must not make us give up our critical sense and our ability to select sources and news, it is good that we do not go from today’s “I read it on the internet” to “Alexa told me”.
We should not only expect answers to our requests, but also proactive attitudes which will be an incentive for us to live better, from a simple “your train leaves in half an hour, it’s a good idea to leave so as not to arrive late and risk missing it” to more detailed and intimate things like “you won’t be home this evening, maybe it’s better if you start packing your suitcase for tomorrow”, until you get to motivational features or attention to our health such as “with cholesterol at 200 it would be better to avoid those pastries, how about a fruit?”. Many of these things may seem like an invasion of our personal sphere today, but tomorrow they could be very useful for some of us.
Some people will find it so good to talk to these digital assistants that they start to feel feelings for them, until they fall in love with them or even confess their most intimate secrets to them, trusting in the confidentiality guaranteed by the service provider.
The invasion of the personal sphere will be accompanied by issues related to the security and protection of personal data, issues that should not be overlooked and which must be carefully analyzed before putting devices on the market that are not completely safe. As users we will always have to ask ourselves who we will give our data towhat data will be involved and how this data will be managed, always remembering that if the service is free, our data will probably be the bargaining chip to be able to use it.
What is certain is that our lives will change radically, we will have assistants capable of carrying out many tasks for us, but we will have to be very good at realizing that, no matter how good they are at having a conversation with us, it will always and only be about machines.