What are Virtual Assistants?

As voice recognition and gesture-based technologies advance and more recently, converge, we are quickly moving away from the notion of interacting with our devices via a pointer and keyboard. Virtual assistants are a credible extension of work being done with natural user interfaces (NUIs), and the first examples are already in the marketplace. The concept builds on developments in interfaces across the spectrum of engineering, computer science, and biometrics. The Apple iPhone’s Siri and Android's Jellybean are recent mobile-based examples, and allow users to control all the functions of the phone, participate in lifelike conversations with the virtual assistant, and more. A new class of smart televisions are 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. Virtual assistants of that caliber and their applications 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.

INSTRUCTIONS: Enter your responses to the questions below. This is most easily done by moving your cursor to the end of the last item and pressing RETURN to create a new bullet point. Please include URLs whenever you can (full URLs will automatically be turned into hyperlinks; please type them out rather than using the linking tools in the toolbar).

Please "sign" your contributions by marking with the code of 4 tildes (~) in a row so that we can follow up with you if we need additional information or leads to examples- this produces a signature when the page is updated, like this: - Larry Larry Feb 8, 2012

(1) How might this technology be relevant to the educational sector you know best?

  • Will classrooms be having students talk at their devices... this is a noisy proposition. It's cool, but for K12 has some current logistics problems. The impact is how quickly a student can find information so they can focus on the APPLICATION rather than the acquisition of information. As technology improves to allow for the computer to assist in maneuvering the device and information, the student is able to focus more of their time on learning. - mrskeeler mrskeeler Feb 1, 2014
  • There is a link between Virtual Assistants and The Internet of Things. Devices are: talking to us, listening to our instructions and talking to one another. As soon as we awake, many of us "check-in" with our gadgets…collecting data/waiting for instructions. We're in the process of following instructions from virtual assistants who have worked while we rested. Examples: Traffic/weather reports, AQI, air delays, medical feedback, etc. - michael.lambert michael.lambert Feb 2, 2014

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

  • I am not sure I like the title "Virtual Assistants" as it seems like virtual tutors. We are really talking about shifting how we interact with our devices to have a more natural work flow.
  • I agree with the need to change the title. Virtual Assistants already has a widely used definition of a "remote" person who handles little tasks for you, like an administrative assistant. - alex.podchaski alex.podchaski Feb 9, 2014

(3) What do you see as the potential impact of this technology on teaching, learning, or creative inquiry?

  • See #1 - mrskeeler mrskeeler Feb 1, 2014
  • add your response here

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

  • add your response here
  • add your response here

Please share information about related projects in our Horizon Project Sharing Form.