We often go to a search engine to find the information we need. From finding a store location to the weather tomorrow. We are reliant on the search engine to find information in the digital world. It is still by far the most effective way to get to the information we need today.
A recent trend we can see is the rise of virtual assistants. From the initial start, when Apple introduced Siri a virtual assistant on every single iPhone. To Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa devices that allows you to talk verbally to your virtual assistant. These IOT devices allows the digital assistant to be present in the comfort of your living room. I talk about virtual assistant as a general term, what it includes are also chatbots that we see on websites and apps.
So are these virtual assistant the future of search as we know it?
Below are some points that compares search and virtual assistants.
Search today feels alot like finding information on yellow pages or a physical dictionary. You are able to find the information you need in an effective and orderly manner. Through keywords, the most relevant information are displayed to you in a list. While efficient in getting things done, the whole experience is a bit lacking.
The search process feels transactional. We search for what we want and sieve through the list of relevant links. Information are well organized the concept is straightforward.
Virtual assistant on the other hand tries to emulate the feeling of having your own personal assistant. Ask a question and it is able to reply you with the information you seek. Instead of showing you a list of possibilities to your question. An answer is delivered.
Natural Human Conversation
Advances in machine learning, voice recognition and natural language processing have enable technology to comprehend the natural human conversation. The ability for machines to now understand human conversation have open the door to many more possibilities.
We are no longer limited by keywords in finding information like on a search engine. Virtual assistants will enable us to communicate naturally as if we were having a conversation with a friend. Even comprehending the different nuances of language and accents.
This also means that when we ask a question that is not clearly defined, the virtual assistant is able to correct us and provide suggestions. Seeking information from a virtual assistant would be more interactive, a two-way street. Where we can get into a discussion before we get the information we need.
While current virtual assistants are unable to detect a user emotion. It is definitely possible that future virtual assistants can detect the emotions in our speech. Whether we are enrage in our tone or feeling surprise at an answer. Virtual assistants can equally match our emotional tone in the reply.
More Personalised Response
Just like having your own personal assistant, a virtual assistant is able to give replies that are tailored for you. From your preference for metrics measurement to knowing you are a parent of 2 kids. Virtual assistant understanding of you is much more personal than search. This is due both data collection and machine learning combined.
A virtual assistant might ask if you would like to book a trip for the whole family or for yourself only. Such personalised questions can be asked by virtual assistants with an understanding of your preference.
Compared to search, virtual assistant will only get better at giving responses in tone and manner people relate best. Instead of general replies that works for all, a virtual assistant is able to reply more personally.
Another advantage of a virtual assistant over search is the ability for it to provide contextual-relevant replies.
For example, if you were to ask - “How far is the sun?”. The predicted answer of a virtual assistant would have been the distance from earth to the sun.
If you follow up with another question - “How long will it take?”. The virtual assistant will make an assumption based on the previous question. And understand that you are asking about the time it will take to reach the sun from earth.
Asking follow-up questions come naturally to people. When we want to get more clarity to a question, we will seek more information regarding it. If we are curious, we would also ask more related questions.
Virtual assistants ability to answer questions that expands beyond the initial enquiry can prove hugely helpful. It would no longer be search term after search term, where each search enquiry does not understand the context of the previous enquiries.
Doing Everyday Tasks
Beyond just finding the information you need, virtual assistants allows you to do all kinds of useful actions. From setting alarms, read the news to even turning on the lights.
Integration with other services and products to your virtual assistant, such as your social media accounts to email, will enable you to do stuff easier and faster.
What is missing in search today is machine prediction.
With machine learning, virtual assistants are able to anticipate the information or actions you need even before you ask. Recognising that you are most likely to check the weather the night before or find roses nearer to your anniversary. The collected data is used to predict your most likely behaviour.
Devices such as IOTs and augmented reality glasses would become more prevalent in the future. How search work today might not be as feasible to implement on these devices.
The ability for virtual assistant to answer through voice, allows it to be more versatile in implementation across different platforms. From a car dashboard to a portable game console, a virtual assistant can be more easily integrated.
Virtual assistant will deliver the information we need in a much better experience than search today.
In summary, virtual assistant will slowly transit and take over how we do search today. It will value add features such as personalisation and natural language processing. Enabling us to do task and get information easier than ever before.