Does a human or robot virtual assistant (VA) make knowledge work easier?
Human virtual assistance has been a booming business for almost a decade, and now, with the wide launch of Amazon Echo, you can have a robot as well. However, just because technology grows ever more sophisticated doesn’t mean our lives as knowledge workers are getting any easier. We will have a variety of needs that aren’t being met with existing process and tools. In this piece, we’ll examine the productivity pros and cons associated with all kinds of virtual assistants, answering the question: are they worth it?
Dan Ackerman at CNET thinks the Amazon Echo was the breakthrough product of 2015. For those who don’t know, Echo is an internet-connected wireless speaker wrapped around a digital personal assistant named Alexa.
Why does Ackerman love the Echo so much? He claims that, unlike any other voice-recognition technology he has tried, Alexa understood what he was saying at least 80 percent of the time, and very often offered logical, informative replies. He was also able to speak to Alexa in an everyday, casual voice that puts Siri’s required mega-enunciation to shame.
Echo makes sure you’re dressed appropriately for the weather. It can access audio streams from Pandora, TuneIn and other providers; answer general interest questions, often by quoting Wikipedia; access your Google Calendar information; and even control some of the most popular smart home devices including Philips Hue and Belkin’s WeMo products.
Just this week, Amazon announced some new features for the Echo. One is a fitness option. You can now ask Alexa to start a seven-minute workout, for instance, and she will provide “a set of exercises designed to increase metabolism, improve energy, lower stress, and remove fat.” Another is “Ask Fidelity,” which will pull up stock quotes by name or ticker symbol, and you can also ask for information about the latest political debates.
VAs: When robots catch up to humans
It’s only a matter of time before the Echo and Alexa can do nearly all administrative tasks associated with knowledge work – including setting up and transcribing meetings, organizing your online files, managing projects, creating reports, building databases, summarizing articles and books, publishing your writing, managing your social media accounts, processing invoices and expenses, and booking business travel.
Many start-ups and small businesses have been using human virtual assistants (VAs) for years. But during the recession, when full-time, onsite administrative help became scarcer, remote human VAs made their debut in larger and more established organizations. Increasingly, virtual assistants are being hired by companies on a work-from-home basis to help out executives and teams with admin, creative, and/or technical tasks.
Like other independent contractors, remote VAs provide services using their own space and equipment, and typically do not enjoy company benefits like insurance. Terms and contracts are fluid, and many VAs never meet their clients in person – communicating instead via a bevy of videoconferencing and project collaboration tools.
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