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voice assistant

Contributor(s): Matthew Haughn

A voice assistant is a digital assistant that uses voice recognition, natural language processing and speech synthesis to provide aid to users through phones and voice recognition applications.

Voice assistants are used in help and service phone lines, smartphones and other places to assist users with tasks, including:

  • Listening to an audiobook.
  • Requesting information, similarly to inputting a search query.
  • Making reservations.
  • Adding items to a shopping list.
  • Performing mathematical calculations.
  • Playing music.

Voice assistants are built on artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning and voice recognition technology. As the end user interacts with the digital assistant, the AI programming uses sophisticated algorithms to learn from data input and better itself at predicting the user's needs. Some assistants are built with more advanced cognitive computing technologies which will allow a digital assistant to understand and carry out multi-step requests with numerous interactions and perform more complex tasks, such as booking seats at a movie theater.

Digital assistants can be contrasted with another application of consumer-facing AI called smart advisors. Smart advisor programs are knowledge-oriented, while digital assistants are task-oriented, although some perform both roles. Popular voice assistants currently include Apple's Siri, Amazon's Alexa, Google Now, Google Assistant and Microsoft's Cortana.

This was last updated in August 2017

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