Voice Assistants (VA) are a combination of technologies that include natural language processing (NLP), voice recognition, and voice synthesis to communicate with its users using natural language.
Voice assistants are commonly confused with virtual assistants, an umbrella term encompassing various types of agents that perform different tasks and individual services. Although virtual assistants can perform similar tasks, they are not entirely synonymous with one another.
The main differences these agents have lies in the way we interact with them. For example, chatbots are a text-based virtual assistant that simulates human-like conversations with users. On the other hand, voice assistants are virtual assistants that use natural speech to resolve queries and interact with users.
The critical components here are: wake words. Assistants always listen for wake words such as "Hey, Siri" and "Ok Google" that trigger their initiation.
Wake words are built using a special algorithm that listens for a specific word that will 'wake' the device in order for it to begin communicating with a server to do its task.
Wake words are quite specific. They must be unique enough to not be spoken out in everyday conversation, easy enough for people to pronounce, and simple enough for a machine to recognize them. For this reason, people cannot be chosen and personalized by individual users.
Nevertheless, these wake words aren't exactly 'understood' by voice assistants. Voice assistants must work hand in hand with natural language processing to decipher a user's command by interpreting natural language.
As the integration of voice assistants within users' daily lives continues to grow, it is only natural for some to feel reluctant to fully accept them.
People mainly fear the lack of privacy that comes with the use of a voice assistant. Smart speakers, while waiting to receive a wake word, are always listening. However, smart speakers do not begin recording what you say until you say the wake word. Meanwhile, smartphones do not necessarily require a wake word to trigger its activation. Whenever one presses a button on a smartphone, it automatically activates the voice assistant, and once awake, the smartphone begins recording snippets of what you say. These snippets are what the device sends to the server to break down and analyze in order to help it understand the language and formulate natural responses to future queries.
Voice assistants can sometimes cause frustration when the device continuously fails to understand what the user is saying. Whether it be because of differing accents, slang, or simply the device's premature state of understanding, it can put users off the idea of using them on a consistent basis.
Although the servers with which voice assistants communicate with use encrypted connections, users still feel incredibly concerned with the possibility of their device being hacked and their private information being at risk. Additionally, someone besides you could potentially speak to your assistant on your behalf. If this occurs, they can access your information without your consent and begin carrying out actions such as purchasing products. This security breach can be mitigated through identifying not only the wake word but the person’s unique voice.
Voice assistants continue to improve over time, becoming more intelligent and capable of understanding more language nuances, refining its ability to respond more accurately and naturally than ever before.