What is a Voice Assistant?

In a nutshell, a Voice Assistant is a piece of interactive software that has been developed with Artificial Intelligence (AI), natural language processing (NLP), voice recognition, and machine learning. This continuously evolving combination makes it possible for a human to actually have a conversation with a machine. We use Voice Assistants to answer questions and make reservations. We also use them to get directions, purchase something, play music, or even walk us through how to bake a cake. And the awesome part about all of this is the more we collectively use Voice Assistants the better they get!

Voice Assistants are integrated into smart speaker devices like Google Home and Amazon Echo, and directly into mobile operating systems (OS) and smartwatches like Apple’s Siri. But also in certain appliances and vehicles, just to name a few common examples.

Devices that are integrated with Voice Assistant software commonly require activation via a wake word, like “Hey Alexa” for the Amazon Echo for example. This is an important concept for many Voice Assistant users as it means they can only be used on command. Some of the smarter Voice Assistants are also multi-lingual and are adding new languages to their roster every year.

Voice designers work to make voice assistants that are both user-friendly and able to complete basic to moderately complicated tasks. Voice designers apply traditional methods and concepts of user experience design to conversational interfaces. They are responsible for ensuring the usability of a voice product.


The History

So how did we get to the Alexa of today? You may think that Voice Assistants appeared with the iPhone. However, Siri graciously informed me that actually, the earliest editions of Voice Assistants go back to the early 1960’s with IBM’s Shoebox. While the Shoebox only recognized 16 words and digits, it basically created the foundation for Alexa, Siri, and Cortana today. Over the years companies like Microsoft (Clippy) and Dragon helped develop the natural language processing, voice recognition, and transcription functionalities that our modern-day Voice Assistants use.


Understanding User Input 

The interaction and the flexibility of the different functionalities are pretty amazing when you think about it. Natural language processing is the ability for machines to manipulate text and voice. It allows the bot to take my words, understand them and formulate a response to my inquiry. Machine learning gives software the opportunity to continuously “learn” new words and phrases through self-learning. This means that they can only get better. Remember back to those days when Siri would easily be stumped? She’s a lot more sophisticated today thanks to everyone who uses her, giving her the ability to grow and improve. (Although it’s still kind of fun to try to stump her on occasion – I have to say her comebacks are getting better and better with time!)

voice assistants going to take over in the future? What do you think? I would love to hear your thoughts in the comment section below and check us out at Botsociety!


Jade Anna Hughes

Independent Writing and Editing Professional