19.01-What is an Artificial Intelligence (AI) based Virtual Assistant? – 2016-07-17

As mentioned in article 18.01-Voice on today’s smartphones provides the functionality to be more efficient and maximize your productivity-2015-06-17, we need to CONSTANTLY ADAPT to new ways of doing things by capitalizing on the powerful functionality offered by today’s technologies. Virtual Assistants, such as Google Now, Cortana and Siri are powerful Apps to boost your efficiency and productivity, and simplify your life. This article, which is a follow-on to article 18.01, presents: what an AI based Virtual Assistant is, why it is important for you to learn and use, what you should be careful about, and why Virtual Assistants will dramatically influence the future of personal computing.

What’s a Virtual Assistant?

A Virtual Assistant is an App that provides answers to questions you ask, remind you of important things to do in a timely manner and performs certain tasks that you request, just as a human personal assistant would do if it followed you everywhere you go. Virtual Assistant Apps are relatively new and require the interaction between a variety of Apps and technologies to produce meaningful results.

As a simplistic example, if you ask “Navigate to Québec City”, the Virtual Assistant needs to have access to your location info, to know where you are right now, before it can determine the road to get you to Québec City. Then, if you say “What’s the weather there?” The Virtual Assistant needs to refer to your previous request to infer that you probably want to know the weather in Québec City. Therefore, based on your previous request, it will give you the weather for Québec City. As you will see in future articles, it can get more complicated then this depending on what you want from your Virtual Assistant.

Why are Virtual Assistants Apps important to their suppliers?

Since very few things are FREE in this world, how do you think Google makes so much money while offering most of its Apps and services for FREE around to the world?  It is because it makes money by selling Ads and human behavior info. The more traffic Google gets, more Ads get viewed and more sophisticated human behavior info can be gathered, the more money it can get for this info. In other words, the more Google gets to know about human behaviors the more money it can make. For example: knowing how many individuals from a specific sector of town go shopping at a specific store or shopping area can be quite valuable for a retailor of that shopping area to target its Ad money. Therefore, such a retailer would be ready to pay more for this kind of precise info to save money with targeted Ads versus advertising at large.

As you can see, there is big money up for grabs for gathering human behavior info and Virtual Assistants Apps represent an additional tool to help companies tap into this lucrative market. It’s not surprising that all the large operating system suppliers such as Google, Apple and Microsoft offer Virtual Assistants Apps. They are followed by Amazon Echo, Facebook M, …

Why are Virtual Assistants important to you?

Your smartphone follows you everywhere you go and is available 24 hours a day. If you can get such a device to answer most of your requests, this may become a lot more useful then depending on a human assistant, that cost more money than you can probably afford and is not available all the time wherever you are.

Should you be afraid that the Virtual Assistants suppliers will know too much about you? What about your privacy?

If you have been using a smartphone, email services and social media for years, these companies already know a whole lot about you. They can track and know where you are at any time, because they can locate your cell phone from the cell phone towers and with your GPS. They know what you are interested into from the web searches you make. They know who you interact with from your phone log and emails, not counting your social media revelations. As you can see, there is a whole lot of your personal info already out there.

Should you wary about it?

If you don’t do anything wrong or illegal, who cares that they know where you have been and what your interests are? Remember, the trustworthy providers are not interested in you personally. Their key focus is to collate info about millions of people to determine human behavior patterns. This is what’s important to their clients. Since nothing is FREE in this world, the human behavior pattern info they gather represents the price to pay for the FREE Apps and services you benefit from.

This is not to say that you do not care or act carelessly. Please read the following article to learn about what you should be doing and be careful about: 15.5-Beware and very selective about the Apps you install and the accesses you allow! -2016-06-28.

The biggest threats come from our governments, in my opinion. WikiLeaks has posted enough to make anyone wary. If you have read the Edward Snowden revelations, you know that the US government (and probably other governments too) filters every phone call you make, every email or SMS you send, and God knows what. If you use a cell phone you are tracked everywhere you go. Now day’s privacy is an utopia! So unless you retire into the woods with no outside communications, there is not much you can do about it. It’s a fact of our modern times!

There are risks and there will always be risks! There are risks while driving a car, riding a plane, hunting with a fire arm, and the likes. A risk free world does not exist. To minimize risks, you have think before you act, and once you do, you have to act thoughtfully.

Think before doing stupid things!

Since you know that this info is around and can be used maliciously, you have to think before doing stupid things. Be alert not to put yourself into regretful situations such as the young girls who exposed themselves on-line. The most dangerous Apps regarding privacy are social media Apps. Often, active social media users expose their lives to the world. Direct messages, such as phone calls, emails and SMS directed to specific individuals, expose you far less and should be your preferred communication means.

How does a Virtual Assistant App works?

To be effective and provide accurate and valuable info and responses, a Virtual Assistant needs to keep track and know as much as possible about you. It needs to access and use this info to adequately address your requests. For example, it generally needs to know where you are located, where you live and where you work, etc., keep track of your previous requests to address follow-on requests, recognize the words you usually use in your requests, have access to your contacts that you may refer to, etc.

The most effective way to achieve this is to use most of the Apps provided by your Virtual Assistant App supplier. This will ensure that the Virtual Assistant App you use will know where and how to access the info it needs to address your requests.

I personally use and encourage you to use many Google Apps (Gmail, Calendar, Search, Chrome …) because I find them to be the most functionally advanced and also, because they are available across all the main technology the platforms: Apple, Microsoft and Android. I will come back to this topic in follow-on articles about Virtual Assistants.

Why Virtual Assistants will dramatically influence the future of personal computing?

Humans have been working on simplifying the use of computers since they were first introduced in the 60’s. We have experienced and continue to make great progress in making computing devices (smartphones, tablets and PCs) more powerful and easier to use.

For many years now, the industry has been working on Voice Recognition and Artificial Intelligence to make computer better interpret human requests and simplify man/machine communications. Because of the complexity of making a computer, that only works with ones and zeros, understand and interpret human language, progress has been very slow. The word Artificial Intelligence (AI) was created in 1956. In 1962 IBM demonstrated its “Shoebox” Voice Recognition machine that could recognize 16 English spoken words. This shows that we have been working in these areas for more than 50 years!

Continued research and developments in the areas of Voice Recognition and AI, plus the advent of low cost high performance computing and very efficient search engines have all contributed to the development of today’s Artificial Intelligence (AI) based Virtual Assistant Apps. These Apps are very sophisticated and need access to a wide variety of information to first be able to recognize a vocal request, then seek out and put together a meaningful answer.

According to many, including myself, we have now reached the stage where we can easily and productively use such tools to assist us in our daily lives. Many of the very large resourceful companies such as Google, Microsoft, Apple and others have recognized the potential it represents for their future growth and are pouring tons of money to each try to dominate this market. The game is on and the future will determine who will win. Currently, two companies stand out as potential winners: Google in the personal computing arena and Microsoft in the corporate computing arena. I will present what favors these potential winners in future articles.


Artificial Intelligence (AI) based Virtual Assistants will dramatically influence the way we interface with our computing devices (smartphones, tablets and PCs) from now on. It is therefore very important to learn how to use them and incorporate them in our daily lives. Follow-on articles will present different types of Virtual Assistants, how to use them, which is the most promising Personal Virtual Assistant and why, and which is which is the most promising Corporate Virtual Assistant and why. These articles should help you select the tools that are the most appropriate for you.