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Definition: virtual assistant


(1) An individual who performs administrative functions for clients. See human virtual assistant.

(2) An application that provides a verbal exchange of questions and answers in the user's native language. Although virtual assistants are a feature in tablets, desktop computers and table top units, their inclusion in the smartphone made the phone an incredibly useful electronic companion.

Also called a "personal assistant," "digital assistant," "intelligent assistant," "voice assistant" and "intelligent agent," Apple popularized the concept in 2011 with Siri, and Google, Microsoft and Amazon followed. See Siri, Google Assistant and Cortana.

Virtual assistants are also used to make phone calls and set alarms, reminders and calendar appointments, as well as turn on lights, music and other smart home devices. Over time, results become more personalized. Virtual assistants were the first embodiment of artificial intelligence used every day by millions of people (see AI). See chatbot and smart home.

From Mobile to Tabletop
Starting out in phones and tablets, virtual assistants migrated to actual desktops and tabletops, many with their own display screen such as the Alexa-equipped Echo Show (see Amazon Echo, Google Home and Apple HomePod).

Heavy Lifting in the Cloud
The virtual assistant is primarily driven by knowledge bases on the Internet. However, that vast amount of information is combined with the user's own contacts and calendar to provide personalized assistance. See knowledge base, Semantic Web, AI and S Voice.




A Google Assistant
The virtual assistant in this Insignia smart speaker is Google Assistant. It is similar to Google's own Nest Mini but without Google Voice service. (Image courtesy of Stephen Richman.) See Google Home and Google Assistant.