Digital Aids like Siri are not Virtual Assistants

digital virtual assistant

Photo by Victor Habbick


As a Virtual Assistant, and a real human being who provides professional support services from my home-based office, it ticks me off a little bit that Apple, Google, Microsoft, Nuance and others call their voice-activated digital aids “virtual assistants.” Siri, Cortana, Google NOW, NINA and others are smart-phone technology with voice recognition, and good ones at that. But they are not true “virtual assistants.”

A little history:

  • Before there were Virtual Assistants, there were secretarial services — independent businesses with brick and mortar offices that provided administrative support services to the public.  I owned one for years.
  • Early in the 1990s, Anastacia “Stacy” Brice began working virtual as a full time home-based contractor with an international client providing administrative support, travel planning and personal assistance.
  • In 1996, life coach Thomas Leonard coined the term “Virtual Assistant” in a telephone conversation with Stacy Brice.
  • In 1997, Stacy formed the first professional organization for virtual assistants, AssistU.

As Mike Elgan wrote in this article from Computerworld:

“Real personal assistants don’t just do what they’re told or answer the questions they’re asked. They intelligently anticipate potential issues and prevent things from falling through the cracks. A real personal assistant is not a tool, but an ally. (Emphasis mine).

Real personal assistants pay attention to what’s important. They proactively bring things to your attention that would otherwise go unnoticed. They plan and prioritize.

Siri can reschedule your dentist appointment, but only if you discover that you need to change it and remember to ask Siri to do it.”

A real Virtual Assistant cares about your business. As smart as smart phones are, they couldn’t care less if your business fails, or you get lost, the restaurant has crummy food, and your plane is delayed. Like spell-checkers and auto-correct, they don’t understand context.

Artificial intelligence has come a long way. I admire everyone who has spent incalculable hours making it happen. I love smart phones, Google Maps and voice navigation. However, these digital aids are not true Virtual Assistants any more than my cat’s laser mouse is a brain surgeon.

I wish they had called them something else.

End of rant.

Recalculating …


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