Cardiff University and IBM have been working on creating a new virtual assistant (VA) software that can interact with its owner in a more human-like manner.

The new device is similar to other smartphone assistants, such as Apple’s Siri. This new virtual assistant, called Sherlock (Simple Human Experiment Regarding Locally Observed Collective Knowledge), is different to other models in that it sources out information from other users, rather than its own database or the internet.

This new device can also be used even when it is not connected to the cloud, meaning it could still function in parts of the world where bandwidth is restricted.

The Growth of the Virtual Assistant

The virtual assistant market is growing rapidly with the tech giants at the forefront of this emerging market.

Google, Amazon and Apple have all produced their own VA devices.

The competitive nature of the market means that models are quickly becoming more advanced. No longer are VA’s just used for just basic commands such as making appointments and calling friends using voice recognition. Window’s Cortana can now perform user searches for absolutely anything on the Web. It can even tell jokes.

A Globally Emerging Market

What’s more, VA’s are no longer just the domain of predominantly English-speaking tech firms. The first Chinese voice virtual assistant was launched by Baidu this year and will compete with its counterparts in the West in the Chinese market.

Tech companies are now competing with each other to make their VA’s more human-like. For example, Apple has recently taken over a UK company – the third UK based tech firm it has acquired this year – VocalIQ in order to help improve the conversational skills of their VA Siri.

For some this might all sound a little creepy, but for now the potential utility of VAs seems limitless. Indeed, businesses in the UK are now starting to depend on such devices for some of their more tedious everyday operations – with promising results.

Implications of VA Software

Pros

VA’s might be particularly useful for smaller businesses without the capital for an army of PA’s. VA’s might also be more practical for employees who work from home or are frequently travelling out of the office. Employees on the move can now use some VA’s in their car too.

Cons

In 2014 the University of Oxford released a study that stated up to one third of jobs in the UK were under threat from new technology; certainly VA systems are a threat to secretarial jobs which have already decreased by 40% since 2001. It is likely that the more advanced VA systems become, the more questions will be raised over the effectiveness of humans in such positions.

Security

Big concerns are still being raised about the security of data stored on VA devices and just how much data these devices might accidentally be exposed to. For example, the security of Apple’s Siri data has come under scrutiny after it was pointed out that in order for the voice recognition to work on command the microphone must be on at all times. Apple has stated that only once Siri has been activated is voice data recorded.

Ethical Hacking Training – Resources (InfoSec)

Data Protection

As technology becomes more advanced, it is likely to become even more intrusive. In order for VA technology to be useful to businesses, it will need to steadily collect information so that it can be more familiar with that businesses’ operations. Certainly, those VA systems that are most successful are those that are most able to adapt to a user’s needs and routines; that adaptability is dependent on how much information that device can retain about its user.

If these VA systems do collect large amounts of user data they are going to be more vulnerable to data breaches. VA systems might be a particularly attractive target for a data thief, as they are likely to contain both personal and corporate data belonging to the owner. This data could be in a variety of formats – including video, audio and text records.

It will be the responsibility of future VA innovators to ensure that all this data, in whichever format it may be, is effectively safeguarded. Only then do the possibilities for VAs become truly limitless.