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?

  • Search and discovery of information resources is moving to the "chat interface" in many environments. Such as Siri, Google Now, etc. We can anticipate this continuing to increase as speaking is less effort than typing. This would radically change how scholarly resources are searched for while at the same time raising new concerns about privacy and security as people encounter login screen in the midst of voice-based search. - ljanicke ljanicke Nov 3, 2016
  • Students with their own virtual assistants on their mobile devices and laptops may interact with their devices more in the library environment placing some additional pressure on sharing "quiet study" spaces. - mylee.joseph mylee.joseph Nov 8, 2016
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(2) What themes are missing from the above description that you think are important?

  • The challenge of access to secure resources via voice rather than open web or public resources. - ljanicke ljanicke Nov 3, 2016
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(3) What do you see as the potential impact of this technology on academic and research libraries?

  • Will virtual assistants be used by faculty - perhaps library staff will find themselves dealing with these intermediaries rather than the faculty themselves (eg. enquiries / requests) - mylee.joseph mylee.joseph Nov 8, 2016
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(4) Do you have or know of a project working in this area?

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