Digital assistants: the core reality of the future?
The importance of digital assistants today can be seen in the investment of time and workforce tech giants like Samsung, Apple, Amazon, and Google are directing towards them. Since Siri, the digital assistants have moved from phones into homes. Now, efforts are being made to make their integration within our lives even more permanent.
No more a niche
The capabilities of the digital assistants have swiftly moved beyond just setting alarms. The assistants are now forming coordinated and cohesive ecosystems, connecting to smart home devices, smart electronic devices, and even cars. Digital assistants themselves have changed in their way. From being contained in mobile phones, they are now spreading around homes in the form of intelligent speakers. Soon, the transition might translate into products such as wireless earbuds or Google Glass. The trend could even go further where technology such as NASA’s ‘Silent Speech’ is used to coordinate and communicate with the assistants with either muscle movements or nerve impulses.
The ‘Digital Assistant and Voice AI–Capable Device Forecast 2016–21’ report by Ovum research predicts that there will be more than 7.5 billion activated digital assistants devices by 2021. JWT and Mindshare’s ‘Speak Easy’ report states that over 50% of Millennials rely on digital assistants by making voice commands at least once in a month. According to W3.Digital, millennials trust assisting interactions more than human interactions. Google earlier reported that 20% of searches done on Android in the US was conducted via voice commands to digital assistants. Amongst the early adopters of Alexa, 60% claim that ‘Alexa has become integral to my daily routine.' As per the Markets and Markets’ report, the AI-driven digital assistant market is predicted to be worth $5.5 billion by 2020.
Nova Spiviak, a futurist and entrepreneur who works on AI, predicts that by 2050, humans will be interacting with AI via brain transplants. The chips will streamline the digital assistant’s processing capabilities with our thoughts, making the two cohesive and almost singular. Spiviak alone is not the only proponent of singularity. Ray Kurzweil, Google’s chief futurist, is a major proponent of the concept and believes that it can lead to immortality by 2045. By incorporating smart technology driven assistants in ourselves, Kurzweil believes we can hack our genes and the biological processes that cause degradation in our bodies. The transhuman hence will be a singular being, a mesh of machine intelligence and human conscience, with more time and energy at his disposal to fully exploit his potential and skills.
Is the digital assistant
a friend or a spy?
As people become more reliant on digital assistants and they merge into their lives, the question of privacy becomes an important one. If digital assistants will track routines, predict choices and shape opinions, what will the companies responsible for the assistants do with that data? As most companies want users to buy propriety systems, wherein one company produces all the products, they can hold much leverage on their customers. Spiviak insists that future digital assistants must incorporate some attorney-client like privileges if they are to become more trustworthy. Similarly, if the devices will handle sensitive personal data, what if there is a security breach?
Subbaro Kumbhampati of the Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence insists that malicious intent of user information will remain the biggest question mark on digital assistant usage. Given the value of information recorded by the assistants, a new era of hacking can be predicted which in turn would have the companies leading digital assistants as well as government entities direct investments towards counter cyber-security measures.
Crossing over to the professional side:
beyond calling Uber
Digital assistants are not limited to home users alone. In fact, companies like Google and Nokia have come up with dedicated enterprise or professional assistants. Google’s cloud search offers its enterprise customers a collection of information resembling with an interface resembling Google Now. It is based on the company’s reliance on Google Cloud and Google services and is expected to incorporate third-party applications later. It uses the Google search engine and in-built machine learning capabilities to organize and arrange information for its enterprise users. The Google Cloud Search is different from its home assistants as it offers information and knowledge based on professional and business commitments. In a way, Google Cloud replaces the office secretary with an efficient AI alternative that besides managing meetings, can also handle endless amounts of information and knowledge and present everything related to a certain meeting or business commitment on any digital assistant supporting electronic platform.
Similarly, Nokia has launched the ‘'Multi-purpose Intuitive Knowledge Assistant' (MIKA), a digital assistant dedicated to working along engineers. The assistant uses augmented intelligence and automated learning to provide engineering solutions to telecom operators. MIKA would coordinate and compute previous data and offer solutions to problems based on successful methods. According to Igor Leprince, head of Global Services at Nokia, ‘MIKA is customized to support the specific needs of telecoms, and can deliver recommendations based on experience from networks around the world.' Moreover, the assistant is also designed to track the health of hardware products and with its ‘Predictive Repair’ capabilities, can forecast potential hardware failures up to 14 days in advance.
Google Cloud Search and MIKA offer an interesting insight into the trends of Digital Assistants. As professional life takes over personal life due to extra hours and constant connectivity, the future worker might want to draw a line between the two. With specialized digital assistants each for personal and professional life, the user will manage to restrict focus and not be drowned with unnecessary information. Dedicated enterprise and business assistants will act as different profiles for the workers, orienting them to the knowledge and information needed for businesses without intruding in their personal lives.
The social dilemma
Ever since their advent, digital assistants are becoming more and more ‘human.' The assistants available today can remember details of behavior and preferences and react to needs accordingly. With this trend in mind, it is no wonder that users are developing emotional attachments with their digital assistants. The same paradox was touched upon in the movie ‘Her’ where the protagonist falls in love with his digital assistant. However, this is not just fiction. Back in 2015, api.ai surveyed 12,000 users of its assistant application and found that nearly half of its users could imagine falling in love with it. More recently, a Japanese company released Gatebox, a virtual assistant that has a 3D hologram who, besides being a digital assistant, can also act as a pseudo-girlfriend.
The future society is leaning towards a more individualized lifestyle which, in turn, leads to loneliness. As digital assistants become an integral part of our lives and gain some form of emotional maturity, it is expected to be more deeply connected to the digital assistants. However, this connection in itself poses a problem. As the assistants shape around the personal preferences of individuals, they might end up living in bubbles of self-created realities. As assistants abandon the pluralism that comes with human interaction, a person reliant on their assistant will become even more solitary than now. Such a person can be expected to fall short from understanding how to communicate and tolerate differences of opinion. Moreover, the individual will lose the need to be social, giving a new version of being feral. If the individual of the future is to shape in this manner, services too will shape to suit this lifestyle. Anything from entertainment to health services will be designed with least human interaction and more through personal digital assistants. The dynamics of such a market would be entirely different from anything we can perceive at this moment.
Digital assistants are increasingly becoming better versed with the personal needs of their users. Integrating deep into their lifestyles, the assistants are changing the way their users interact with and see the world. A future where the assistants become a core reality of one’s life will show lead to entirely different market and personal dynamics from what we perceive as normal today.