As our workloads, socialising and study become increasingly fast-paced in an online world, human attention spans can struggle to keep up with the demands this lifestyle places on us. One answer to this has come in the form of a smart digital (or virtual) assistant. A digital assistant can become your short-term memory repository, your life coach and your teacher. These AI assistants are speech enabled, so if you need something you just need to speak up rather than manually opening an app and typing a question.
Mark Cameron of w3.digital reports that 34% of millennials adopted the use of a digital assistant into their lives in 2017, and there should be 40 million users by 2019. Though uptake has been the largest in younger generations (who don’t find the use of screen-free digital assistants like Siri, Alexa, Google Assistant and Cortana awkward or unwieldy), they are really for everyone.
At the moment some of these digital assistants are in their infancy, set to become more advanced and more useful with every update, such as the most recent demonstration of Google’s (slightly creepy) Duplex AI assistant. This is just the beginning, as AIs become more intuitive and more ubiquitous, and they’re set to enter every home and office across the world.
The digital players: Introducing Siri, Alexa, Cortana and Google Assistant
Siri by Apple, who was a big deal at her iPhone introduction, is the most famous digital assistant. But there are a couple of AI’s hot on her heels. Google Assistant, Microsoft’s Cortana and Amazon’s Alexa are all giving Siri a run for her money.
- Siri was made by Apple. If you have an Apple device you probably have Siri, she was introduced at the same time the iPhone 4S was released back in 2011. She can operate between all your Apple devices, she has access to a powerful search engine and she can run many of the apps on your phone, making her hard to beat. She is a bit late to the game, but now has her own speaker called Homepod, which is a smart speaker you can pop on the kitchen bench (or anywhere in the home for that matter).
- Alexa is by Amazon. She arrived in Australia in January 2018, and at this stage it’s easier to use Alexa on an Android than an iPhone. Alexa can be paired with Amazon’s Echo and Echo Dot smart speakers.
- Cortana by Microsoft is “a digital assistant imbued with the personality of a sassy young woman”, and Microsoft promise she’ll help you get things done. Cortana works via Windows 10 and Android smartphones, so you can request an action on your laptop and check up on it through your phone later in the day. At this point, there are Cortana-powered Invoke speakers available, though nothing specifically made by Microsoft.
- Google Assistant has the advantage of being an AI constructed with quadrillions of bytes of data from billions of Google customers all around the world. Interestingly, Google Assistant doesn’t have a marketable personality the way some of the competition do. The Google Assistant can speak multiple languages including English, French, German, Hindi, Indonesia, Japanese, Portuguese, and Spanish. It isn’t compatible with Android tablets, but it is compatible with Android smartphones, iPhones and iPads. The Google Assistant has made a huge market impact with a few smart speaker devices including the Google Home and the Google Home Mini.
Setting them up
There is an initial expense involved if you want to set up your digital assistant throughout your home – you’ll need a smart speaker to listen to you for directions. Prices for a compatible device depend on your chosen assistant, with prices starting around $50 and going all the way to $500 for a comprehensive system. But if you have a smartphone you can begin using a digital assistant at no further expense – it may be inbuilt and if not, you can download an app. The more you get into the habit of using a virtual assistant the more intuitive it will become. Although they speak with a human voice, you must remember your hands-free helper is AI. There will be some things they don’t understand or cannot complete for you. Don’t let this distract you from the huge range of tasks they can help you achieve! Let’s see what that list includes.
What can they do?
A digital assistant can help you study as well as eliminate the multitude of small chores and tasks which prevent you from focusing on your work.
Start using reminders. This doesn’t just mean adding events to your calendar. You can get a reminder to do something when you leave or arrive at a specific location: ask your digital assistant to remind you to email your trainer when you arrive at the library, or to buy a new folder when you’re on your way home.
If you use your to do lists effectively you can also ask your assistant what you have left to complete on any given day or week and let them give you a run down.
Let your digital assistant know about all your weekly commitments, including location and time. That means you don’t have to waste time finding out how long it’ll take to commute to your appointment, you can ask your digital assistant without looking up from your desk, and they’ll let you know when it’s time to leave. This is just one example of a huge range of tasks a digital assistant can complete to save you valuable time and energy.
The beauty of a screen-free assistant is by verbally giving commands and asking questions you can avoid getting sucked into scrolling on your phone. Some digital assistants can do online shopping for you, or transfer a mate some money (Alexa is compatible with NAB and Westpac internet banking, Siri uses Apple Pay). They can send texts and emails on your behalf, initiate phone calls, or put on your favourite study playlist.
Siri can do calculus! Every AI will be good at doing maths and finding information for you. If you’re reading a chapter and there’s a phrase you don’t understand, ask your assistant. This way you won’t lose your place in your reading (or your concentration) by manually opening a web browser.
Study in intervals – ask your assistant to let you know when 20 minutes have passed, then let them know you’re taking a 5 minute break. Repeat this to maintain good focus.
As you can see, a digital assistant is here to help you stay cool, calm and collected. The more you use them, the more you can rely on them. Keep your short-term memory free for your studies, and let your digital assistant keep the chaos in order. And if you are not undertaking qualifications at the moment, but would like to speak with a real person who can offer you advice on the best course to help you achieve your career goals, give us a call on 1300 009 924 or visit our website to have a chat.