Is the virtual assistant adoption hype over or just heating up?

Frank Palermo,

EVP & Head of Technology, 
Media & Telecommunications, 
Americas (East Coast)

Published: September 10, 2018

Virtual assistants- capabilities continue to increase as they improve at capturing inferential data on personal preferences, biases, expectations and habits. They will soon be able to predict our future likes and dislikes and our next needs and wants. Tasks from simple appointment setting with a human-like cadence to bringing you your beverage of choice are quickly gaining prevalence.

Will digital assistant technology continue to become as humanistic as possible, or have we reached a point where we'll hit the pause button and begin dialing these features back a bit?

Advancements in sophisticated machine learning algorithms through the use of artificial neural networks help digital assistants respond in a more human-like way. But what exactly are everyday consumers using these assistants for? And how often do they use them? A survey released by PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) this year found that most users between the ages of 18 and 64 speak to their device at least once a day. Below is a chart of the types of these commands, with the remainder of respondents "never" using voice commands for each purpose.

virtual graph

Why is the adoption rate for more complex tasks so low?

Context Is King in the Consumer Adoption Realm

As device sophistication increases, the usefulness of these assistants will also increase, driving further adoption. Adoption is gated by the utility a digital assistant provides.

The future for virtual assistants is conversational, human-like and empathetic behavior. The key to humanizing conversation is the ability to understand context. When digital assistants begin to truly understand us, the accuracy and relevancy of their responses will improve greatly. We, as individuals, all have different communication styles. While one may find the verbose discourse with Alexa irksome, others may prefer the loquacious nature of it. This type of preference is why Alexa now has a "brief mode" that attempts to streamline conversations to make it feel more as if you're having a conversation with your teenager. Google Assistant can now speak 30 languages and pick up on polite requests, which typically include "please" and "thank you," and will respond accordingly.

The ability to have a more personalized, contextual conversation with digital assistants is the key to consumer adoption success. Ultimately, greater awareness and user adoption will come once we better understand the technology, which will only happen when it can better understand us.

Do or Do Not: There Is No Try in Trust

Is the Virtual Assistant Adoption Hype Over or Just Heating Up?

Trust: You either have it or you don't. If you do, consumers will purchase these assistants. If you don't, they tend to err on the side of caution, watching and waiting to see them evolve. If a virtual assistant can't answer a question like "What actor plays Han Solo?" with integrity (to which Siri responded with a list of Star Wars movies), how are consumers supposed to trust these devices to make monetary transactions, safeguard homes and supplement business processes?

Stone Temple conducted a year-over-year comparison that compared an increase or decrease in the accuracy of answering informational questions between the popular virtual assistants from 2017 to 2018. This year, Microsoft's Cortana Invoke was the only one to achieve an increase in 100 percent accuracy (6.1 percent improvement from 2017). There was significant growth across all products in their attempts to answer the questions correctly. Alexa leads the latter with 33.2 percent growth. The demand for accuracy is strong as consumers begin adopting this technology in their day-to-day lives.

Ethics Over Functionality

Data and digital assistants: a double-edged sword. Great triumphs, such as solving malicious murder crimes, are emerging from this technology, but so are consumer concerns of technology overstepping its boundaries. Consumers are concerned about the potential for companies to collect and store massive amounts of personal data on these devices. Does the responsibility of safeguarding data fall into the laps of consumers or companies?

As a consumer, be vigilant about the personal information you share with these assistants. For companies, more robust privacy policies and public disclosures on how the data is being stored and used will be a huge factor in gaining that coveted consumer trust.

There is no question that voice assistants with contextual user experiences are easier to interact with than navigating the maze of mobile apps on your phone. Soon, we will begin to see these digital assistants take on more robust tasks outside the home. Hotels will adopt them as remote-control features for operating lights, TVs and blinds; digital kiosks will pop up for navigation and other service information and businesses will start integrating them into their processes. Microsoft's recent acquisitions of Semantic Machines and Bonsai show that innovation isn't slowing down. The virtual assistant revolution looks like it's just heating up.

Frank Palermo

EVP & Head of Technology, 
Media & Telecommunications, 
Americas (East Coast)

Frank Palermo has over 20 years of global experience as a successful technology executive, with broad-based skills including business consulting, strategy, technology, and development, financial and operational management. Frank excels at cultivating an entrepreneurial culture, assembling high performance teams, identifying emerging technology trends, and incubating innovative, high growth businesses. Frank is passionate about helping companies re-imagine their digital future through the application of technology. He frequently collaborates with organizations on ways to accelerate their innovation roadmap.

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