For the past decade or so, we’ve seen an explosion in technology related to voice search and digital assistants, designed to help people with everything from purchasing products to scheduling appointments. Siri, one of the earliest digital assistants to talk like an assistant, has expanded its capabilities dramatically over the years, and competitors like Cortana and Alexa have emerged to challenge its status as digital assistant poster child.
So far, digital assistant evolution has been relatively linear, with better speech recognition, more advanced capabilities and a bigger overall presence. But where can digital assistants go from here?
Applications and Purposes
First, we’ll see an expansion of the potential purposes and capabilities of digital assistants. General-purpose assistants are great at handling basic commands related to technology management; with the right programming, you can use your voice to control your lights, adjust the volume of your music, and set alarms for yourself. They’re also great at conducting searches and answering basic questions.
But soon, we’ll see digital assistants emerging to cover more specific niches. For example, there are already digital assistants capable of helping you with budgeting, guiding you in tracking your expenses, curtailing your spending habits, and encouraging your saving habits. In the coming years, we may see branded assistants emerging to help people with a diversity of different tasks and strategies.
Semantic Recognition and Conversation
The speech recognition capabilities of assistants have progressed significantly from their humble beginnings. These days, the best assistants on the market can rival or exceed human speech recognition capabilities, missing or misinterpreting words only rarely.
So where does it go from here? Chances are, we’ll see assistants better capable of semantic and conversational recognition; they may be better at predicting and following patterns of speech, and better capable of recognizing human emotions. In line with this, they’ll likely be much better capable of interacting with human beings in conversation, guiding them in dialogue and asking important questions.
Devices and Presence
Already, we’re beginning to see a takeover of digital assistants. Rather than being limited to smartphones, tablets, and laptops, we’re working with assistants in our TVs, refrigerators, and small speakers throughout the house.
In the future, assistants may be even more present in our lives, “baked in” to all the digital devices we use regularly. This will require an expansion of digital assistant compatibility with other operating systems and devices, and smart home (or even smart city) technology that integrates those devices with our surrounding environments.
In a previous section, we alluded to the potential ability of digital assistants to recognize and respond to human emotions, but in practice, this capability could be easily expanded. For example, an assistant could be trained to respond differently when a user is angry, compared to when they sound content. Taking this concept even further, an assistant could be used as a conversational partner—or even a pseudo-therapist—by human consumers.
Habit Learning and Adaptation
One of the biggest breakthroughs in the world of digital assistants is already occurring—the ability for these assistants to learn from your habits and adapt, allowing for a personalized experience. Today, you have the ability to set your own parameters based on your preferences and comfort, and your assistant may learn from your habits, like how you set the temperature in your house or how often you buy paper towels.
In the future, this could expand to include predictive analytics in deeper and more diverse territory; for example, your digital assistant may be capable of tracking your eating habits, your vital signs, and even your pattern of movement throughout the house to provide you a much better custom fit.
Notifications and Suggestions
Already, digital assistants are built to provide notifications and suggestions on a regular basis, with things like alarms, reminders, and suggestions on what to buy or which changes to make. In the future, these capabilities will evolve further, potentially guiding you with advice in all areas of your life.
Modes of Interaction
As digital assistants become embedded in more devices and get used in different applications by different users, we’ll also see new modes of interaction emerge. Today, the most common way to interact with a digital assistant is with your voice, but touch screens, gestures, and other signals may eventually complement that voice interaction.
It’s hard to say exactly where digital assistants can go from here, but it seems all but a certainty that these innovative technological tools are here to stay—and they’ll have the capacity to flourish in the near and distant future. If you’ve been unsure about digital assistants in the past, consider giving a new iteration a try—you might be surprised at how far they’ve come. And they’re only going to get better in the coming years.