Personal and Virtual Assistants

Did you ever notice that very important busy people always have a personal assistant?  It’s because they have the money to afford one, and because they absolutely need one in order to be successful. Having a personal assistant is an absolute necessity, and it is almost impossible to be successful without one.  There are just too many things to remember. So, what about all the rest of us ordinary people? Well, now there is a solution.  It is called a Virtual Assistant.  A Virtual Assistant (VA) can do almost everything a real personal assistant would do if you could afford one, and it works 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.  Plus, it works only for you, and you only need to train it once (and it remembers everything!).  It can help you operate at peak efficiency levels, therefore enabling you to produce better results.

Secretary and Consultant

The new Virtual Assistant can be your personal secretary and consultant all in one. It manages everything, wherever you go:  telephone calls, voice mail, e-mail messages, news, stock quotes, etc., and it can deliver virtually any information imaginable, anytime, anywhere.  You can review messages and return calls faster, and more easily than ever before. It can answer your phone calls, and check your messages, your schedule, and it can read and send e-mails for you by using advanced voice recognition technology.  You can label each message with the caller’s name so you can quickly review and prioritize messages.  You can also talk over a message, in order to go on to something else.  It can remember names and phone numbers for all of your contacts, and it can also voice-dial your calls.

You just give it a telephone number, or words like “home,” “work,” “mom”, etc., and it does all the rest (and it works in multiple languages!).  It can even announce a caller’s name so you always know who’s on the line.  You will never need to miss an important call again!  If a new call comes in while you’re on a call, or listening to a voice mail message, it will whisper the new caller’s name to you.  Then, you can either take the call and put the current call on hold, or have it take a message.  When someone leaves you a voice mail message, it can capture their name and the number, so then you can return calls by simply saying “give them a call!”  Plus, it can re-route your calls to any number, and if your office or workgroup is using them, you can do group messaging.

You can even try to confuse it, and it will try to make the corrections.  Of course, speech recognition is still not perfect, but it is much better than it was before, and it is getting better everyday (and upgrades are downloadable).  It’s an extremely well thought out, and well planned use of technology, and it’s very cool.  The trick is to make this kind of interaction feel conversational, rather than mechanical, so that talking to your Virtual Assistant feels like you’re talking to another person. This is where the art of a good user interface comes in.

Intelligent Agents Integration

When combined with Intelligent Agent technology, it really gets powerful.  It is a combination several emerging technologies, including state-of-the-art agent technology, speech recognition, digital telephony,  and relational databases.  It can be your personal consultant providing up to the minute information directly from Internet sources, constantly keeping you updated as information changes related to banks, shopping, entertainment, hotels, rental cars, restaurants, taxis, travel, etc., and it lets you do all this, and more — completely hands free!

Don’t have the time or the desire to shop? Heard about a great book from a co-worker? Need to do some last minute shopping? Now you can get it done, without lifting a finger. Tell it exactly what you need via phone or e-mail, and it take care of it.  Running late? Call it. and it will connect you to anyone who needs to know. Meeting with a new client?  It can send you pre-trip directions to make sure that you get there safely, and on-time.  Heard a good CD at a friend’s house late last night, but don’t have time to get it yourself?  It will shop online for you.  While “on-line,” use simple voice commands such as “Yahoo,” “News” or “e-mail” to get to the information you want. Breakthrough technology translates the requested Web Page information into text, and reads it out loud to you – without annoying banners, ads and images you see when using a computer to access the Internet.

Imagine driving down the road and having your e-mail read to you through your cell speaker phone. Or being able to check on the weather, request a stock quote, transfer money between your accounts, or buy a last minute gift. You can connect to a service that supports speech commerce, place an order on that service with a speech-activated shopping cart, speech link to a speech-activated restaurant service, then speech link to a live restaurant host to make a dinner reservation. The best thing of all is that it is session-based, so while you are doing all of this, you are on just one call, without having to hang up to make other calls. One call does it all.

How does it work?

A computer understands language by digitizing speech first, and filtering out background noise.  Next, the digitized words are divided into segments, and the frequencies are analyzed.  The processor calculates the probability that the sounds heard, correspond to valid words it has stored in memory. Since there are many possible matches, the software makes choices by referring to archived acoustic models of words – digitized and reduced to numerical averages – and using statistical techniques to guess which combinations are most likely.  In order to interpret meaning, the computer draws on both stored knowledge and statistical analysis, and processes all this data in a fraction of a second.

The Kelsey Group forecasts voice as a means of accessing information, and it will create a multi-billion dollar “voice eco-system”.  Some $5 billion will be generated from services like advertising, subscriber bounties and location-specific commerce, with infrastructure accounting for the rest.

What do you need to make it work?

All you need to access the Virtual Assistant is a phone – your home phone, cell phone, work phone – any phone, anytime, anywhere.  You don’t need a PC, modem or ISP. You don’t even need to know how to use a PC or how to type!  It’s easy to put your virtual assistant into action.  If you need to initiate a phone call, just say the words, and you can talk your way through a whole week of appointments, as you update your address book, calendar and “to do” list. In addition to providing services to callers via voice, it can deliver information to you by WAP, fax, email, and text paging.

With each of the major services, you ordinarily just pay a monthly fee. It’s like signing up for voice-mail from the phone company, but more expensive.  No equipment other than a telephone is required; the provider’s computers do all the work. As you use the service, it automatically evaluates individual usage patterns, and then offers additional features that you might want. Since you get to acquire new services at your own pace, you are in control because you choose only the features you value, and master, before adding new ones.


Virtual Assistants can be extremely valuable tools, and they can save you a lot of time and energy (which is what everyone wants).  It can also help you make good decisions because you are be constantly updated on the latest information.  You have a world of information available to at all times, and soon it will be difficult to live without one.

Author:  David Jurus