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This article is published by Times Of India on 22/03/2023

Can your in-app voice assistant be as cool as J.A.R.V.I.S?

The article explores the reality of in-app voice assistants and how they differ from their fictional counterparts. It discusses the technology behind voice assistants and their potential to simplify everyday tasks, democratize access to technology, and enhance human interaction with devices.

The rapid rise in the popularity of voice assistants equipped with speech recognition technology has made smart speakers and voice-activated assistant devices almost ubiquitous. Over the past decade we have witnessed a rapid emergence and adoption of voice assistants such as Microsoft’s Cortana, Amazon’s Alexa, Apple’s Siri, and the Google Assistant from Alphabet, in our daily lives. With the growth in the use of smart speakers and devices, voice assistants have become a popular way to interact with technology.

According a report 28% of internet users in India were using voice search. Currently, voice is embedded in a variety of products such as smartphone applications, the smart speakers in consumers’ homes and even in our automobiles. Furthermore, voice assistants have inherently assumed integral roles in our daily lives. While human personalities shape the way we interact with the world, voice assistant personalities depicted in the pop-culture and fictional series, establish certain anomalies  from the technology which are surreal and can hardly be materialised.

The ground reality of Voice Assistance technology

Voice assistants have – voice-enabled artificial intelligence (AI) at work. Initially, when the flagship products and voice assistants were launched, minds behind them probably planned to change the world – but they might not have anticipated the extent of the shift in human perspective towards technological devices. From there, voice user interface was pushed to the centre of the stage.

The magic mantra that makes any in-app voice assistant tick, is cognitive computing. Since the dawn of the tabulating era, mankind has journeyed through simple programming and the coding years to shape a future where part of human-like cognition can be woven in computing devices. With cognition weaved into the strands of technology, we tend to share our notions, feelings, and visions with devices.

Ideas float around us — one new technology gets hundreds of visionaries. The fantastic ideas of the future don’t seem so distant anymore. Cognitive systems, such as IBM’s Watson, can build knowledge and learn, understand natural language, reason, and interact more naturally with human beings than traditional computing systems. Voice assistance technology powered with cognition, can quickly identify new patterns and insights. Over time, they will simulate even more closely how the brain works.

How the Sci-Fi broke the ground realities of Voice assistance technology

Over the last century, Sci-fi has been the mechanism to share the story of human ingenuity and imagination. To be fair, it’s been an entertaining ride and many everyday items have gone from fiction to reality. Unfortunately, Sci-fi is also responsible for a lot of broken promises as well. It’s 2023, mankind should have uber smart human-robot assistants already, but real life is a less shiny version than Sci-Fi stories. We have come a long way into materialising a realistic version of robotic assistants, they just don’t match the idealized story we’ve been told through pop culture.

Iron Man’s popular AI assistant, J.A.R.V.I.S. (Just A Rather Very Intelligent System) can deploy his futuristic suits just as he’s about to crash land into the void. This makes the young minds envision virtual bots who can not only save a life in the nick of time but also have the unbelievable capabilities to predict impromptu lethal situations and prevent them by using human-like judgments, all on their own.

This should not be a surprise, but virtual assistants depicted in science fictions and pop culture are written by humans and thus have ultra-imaginative capabilities that is only possible for a human brain to execute. Therefore, we expect existing voice enabled assistants to think, process and reason like a person. When those expectations aren’t met, we consider the technology broken even when the assistant has massive capabilities.

Between the real narrative and the fictional metaphors

Voice assistants were created to simplify our everyday minutiae and reduce the number of actions we take to perform a specific task. Most people know what voice assistants all are about, some of them use their functionality, but quite a lot of users either forget about it when in need, or don’t do it right.

If only one discards the pretentious technology depicted in fictions, the reality of voice assistants is even more thrilling than one could have ever imagined.

Although we don’t have a JARVIS to defend the world from extra-terrestrial invasion, we do have multilingual smart voice assistants that are liberating hundreds of millions of people from the shackles of small screen touch interfaces and English-centric apps. Now that they have access to the same comforts and options as urban, educated, tech-savvy individuals, these aspiring people have more influence. In-app voice assistants are democratising access to technology, knowledge, and opportunity and it’s time to unlock their full potential and let them become your new favourite sidekick!