What are Virtual Assistants?

As voice recognition and gesture-based technologies advance and more recently, converge, we are moving away from the notion of interaction with our devices via a pointer and keyboard. Virtual assistants are the natural end goal of natural user interfaces (NUI), and build on developments in interfaces across the spectrum of engineering, computer science, and biometrics. A new class of smart televisions will be among the first devices to make comprehensive use of the idea. While crude versions of virtual assistants have been around for some time, we have yet to achieve the level of interactivity seen in Apple's classic video, Knowledge Navigator. The Apple iPhone's Siri is a recent mobile-based example, and allows users to control all the functions of the phone, participate in lifelike conversations with users, and more. Microsoft Research is devoting considerable resources to developing NUIs. Virtual assistants for learning are clearly in the long-term horizon, but the potential of the technology to add substance to informal modes of learning is compelling.

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(1) How might this technology be relevant to the educational sector you know best?

  • Virtual assistants could build upon the promise of increased accessibility and mobility in learning (being where learners are when they need to be served) we've seen through the use of tablets by connecting learners to learning resources through increasingly responsive ed-tech tools.- paul.signorelli paul.signorelli Oct 26, 2014
  • VAs save time, reduce costs, and can serve as your personal assistant. It has the potential to help develop and enhance one's personalized learning plan. As we continue the collection points of Big Data...perhaps, VAs will assist in navigating our lessons to create a stronger learning environment for the students we teach as well as our own learning. - michael.lambert michael.lambert Oct 27, 2014

(2) What themes are missing from the above description that you think are important?

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(3) What do you see as the potential impact of this technology on higher education?

  • The potential impact is to further support the learning process through tools designed to be responsive to learners' needs at their moment of need.- paul.signorelli paul.signorelli Oct 26, 2014
  • I agree with the above statement. However there is the disconnect which may occur. At some point having online human interaction may be preferred. We need to be careful to where VAs are incorporated. Because although they can be of great use they may end up having a negative impact in the online learning environment. anna stoute - astoute astoute Oct 28, 2014

(4) Do you have or know of a project working in this area?

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