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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Alex Freeman, Director of Special Projects at the New Media Consortium
Alex Freeman has seven years of experience working with art museums in a leadership capacity. He manages the NMC's Museum Initiative, which provides online training and timely research on a variety of emerging technologies being investigated and integrated by museums. Freeman is a co-author and researcher for the NMC Horizon Report series, which analyzes technology uptake across global higher education, K-12 education, museums, and a number of other sectors and regions.

As we move deeper into digital learning, the role of virtual assistants could become central to assistive technology approaches - something that receives insufficient attention in the rush to empower mainstream students.- jimdevine jimdevine Feb 16, 2015