What are Virtual Assistants?

As voice recognition and gesture-based technologies advance and more recently, converge, we are moving away from the notion of interaction with our devices via a pointer and keyboard. Virtual assistants are the natural end goal of natural user interfaces (NUI), and build on developments in interfaces across the spectrum of engineering, computer science, and biometrics. A new class of smart televisions will be among the first devices to make comprehensive use of the idea. While crude versions of virtual assistants have been around for some time, we have yet to achieve the level of interactivity seen in Apple's classic video, Knowledge Navigator. The Apple iPhone's Siri is a recent mobile-based example, and allows users to control all the functions of the phone, participate in lifelike conversations with users, and more. Microsoft Research is devoting considerable resources to developing NUIs. Virtual assistants for learning are clearly in the long-term horizon, but the potential of the technology to add substance to informal modes of learning is compelling.

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(1) How might this technology be relevant to academic and research libraries?

  • - paul.signorelli paul.signorelli Apr 8, 2015Carrying over and building upon comments I originally posted on the 2013 Higher Education Edition wiki: The type of virtual assistant described here (think of Siri as one early version of this) could have a tremendous positive impact in terms of extending and connecting to information resources available to library users at every stage of their/our lives. Just as tablets have quickly become many things, including dynamic multifaceted libraries in the palms of our hands, virtual assistants could become dynamic multifaceted information resources and learning facilitators in the palms of our hands and could also augment library users' ability to gain access to already existing library resources and information. Anticipating the successful development of these tools/resources suggests that we should already be thinking about how they could extend our ability to provide new opportunities to meet library users' various needs.
  • Agreed. With a Google now API to allow third party apps to tap into it, I forsee many possibilities with library apps http://www.digitaltrends.com/mobile/google-now-third-party-app-api/ - aarontay aarontay Apr 10, 2015

(2) What themes are missing from the above description that you think are important?~

  • - aarontay aarontay Apr 10, 2015 The standard response that can be made here is privacy. SUch technologies require large amounts of data to be tracked, will traditional library ethics make this hard? Or will the trust in libraries by an asset here?
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(3) What do you see as the potential impact of this technology on academic and research libraries

    • - paul.signorelli paul.signorelli Apr 8, 2015Virtual assistants as described here could provide another tool to be used by information seekers and other learners within academic and research libraries. As I noted in the Wearable Technology section of this wiki, Scott Stein's in-depth Apple Watch review for CNET (http://www.cnet.com/products/apple-watch/) includes a section on "Siri on your wrist" that hints at what wearable technology might add to academic and research library toolkits: the "Siri on your wrist" aspect hints at the approach of the sort of virtual assistant we are exploring here.

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(4) Do you have or know of a project working in this area?

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