The A-Z of AI

Virtual assistants

AI-powered applications that carry out tasks for people.

A virtual assistant is an increasingly common use of AI that responds to commands and questions to help people get things done.

They’re essentially a digital take on a human assistant. The most recognizable examples are the voice assistants people speak to via smartphones and smart speakers. Day to day, these assistants help people to search for information online, play music or answer basic questions.

As people's lives and homes become more connected, virtual assistants can help to perform new tasks more easily.

A man walking in a snowy city controls his home thermostat from his smartphone.  Across town, his thermostat glows: a warm 73 degrees.

Today’s assistants are already able to run fairly sophisticated errands, such as switching the heating on before someone gets home, ordering food from their favorite takeout, or informing travelers of flight changes before they get to the airport.

Being responsive to spoken commands not only makes these assistants easy and efficient to use, but also benefits those who find keyboards challenging whether due to literacy issues, disability or other reasons.

Powered by AI learning, the natural language systems that virtual assistants use to understand the context of questions and interpret human voices are creating more natural conversations between people and their devices.