Why Your Digital Virtual Assistants Will Need a Virtual Manager

By Mike Elgan  |  Posted 2016-01-31 Print this article Print
Virtual Assistants

Virtual assistant platforms will specialize along the lines of language and education level and—most importantly—focus exclusively on the needs of the app that they're installed in.

As a result, within five years, any professional adult can expect to be using several, dozens or even more than 100 different narrowly focused virtual assistant platforms.

There will be so many that it will become a management problem, similar to the problem we now have of having too many mobile apps at our disposal.

But we'll assemble these virtual assistants as a virtual staff. And I believe we'll also get virtual assistants whose sole function is to interface with us and manage the staff. Yes, a virtual manager for our staff of virtual assistants.

That's different from what we have now. For example, Apple brings in data components from Bing and Wolfram Alpha that are managed by Siri. But these aren't virtual assistants; they're datasets. And I don't get to add my own components or plug-ins.

Amazon's Alexa is open to third-party developers, and many other companies have supported it. But these aren't fully managed by Alex, and they're not virtual assistants, either. The way it works for the user is that an Alexa command that you have to memorize kicks you over to the functionality of the third-party app. Because this requires memorization and because some of the apps don't always work right, many of the Alexa apps are barely ever used.

What we need is a virtual assistant who can tell which of the add-on assistants can best handle a sudden and arbitrary interaction. It needs to recognize the voice of the user and engage only with that user's staff of assistants. Then, it needs to instantly evaluate the question or request, and assign it on the fly to one or more of the assistants.

Importantly, the response engines for these replies should (and I think will) come from the special-purpose virtual assistant, not the "manager." The reason is that different agents will engage with different facets of the user. A work-related agent will need a tone of detached professionalism. A fitness virtual assistant will have a gung-ho coaching attitude. A psychology assistant will respond appropriately to the mood or emotional state of the user.

Imagine you're a startup with a staff of five people—a designer, developer, lawyer, office manager and IT person. The language, tone and style of interaction between, for example, the developer and the lawyer are going to be completely different. In the staff meeting, you'll switch modes of thought and contexts and problem sets when turning from the developer to the lawyer.

Our virtual assistants will function in the same way. You'll be able to summon any of them by requesting that assistant from the virtual manager.

The world of virtual assistant services is still in its infancy, but it's starting to heat up. The biggest trend now is invisible, but all-important: Specialist companies are opening up their A.I., databases, voice recognition technology and more to other companies. That means tiny startups with great ideas but shallow pockets can build incredibly powerful virtual assistant services, and they're doing so. They'll compete by hyper-specialization.

Meanwhile, the competition among the biggest players is heating up as well. As virtual assistants get more useful—and are used more—they'll become one of the main reasons each user chooses or rejects platforms, such as Android, iOS, Windows, Facebook Messenger or Echo.

Both professionals and consumers will benefit from all this competition.

It seems inevitable that we'll soon have so many virtual assistant options that we'll end up with a staff of assistants that will need a capable manager.

Because who has time to manage all those assistants?



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