Although the concept of virtual assistants has been floating around for decades and incorporated in several systems in the 1990s, it was Apple that changed the game with the introduction of Siri to the mainstream market in 2011. The feature, first found on the iPhone 4S, boasts speech recognition that allows it to send a text message, do an online search, set up reminders, and other tasks on the user’s behalf.

Since then, other tech giants followed suit. Microsoft came up with Cortana in 2013; Amazon’s Alexa assistant emerged in 2014 as part of the Echo home speaker; Google Assistant for Android devices was announced in 2016, and Samsung’s Bixby assistant launched this year with the Samsung Galaxy S8 and S8+.

Nowadays, virtual assistants are part of people’s everyday lives. Aside from mobile phones, they can be found in cars, at home, on watches, and on websites, among others. In related news, MobInfo recently covered the features of the upcoming Samsung Gear S4, which also carries the Bixby assistant.

While virtual assistants have steadily gained traction, it is predicted that the industry will take the global market by storm in the next couple of years. Expert insights have projected the industry’s value to be around $11 billion by 2024. There is a growing interest in enhancing user experience and improving customer engagement, thus the expected growth.

With this much attention, further developments are being made to create smarter AIs for virtual assistants. Microsoft, for instance, is currently studying how to incorporate multilingual speech. Researchers in India are figuring out how to teach an assistant to switch between languages. While there are already language configuration options available for assistance, the goal of this project is to allow Cortana to speak multiple languages in a single conversation. This would be in line with the company’s efforts to humanize its virtual assistant, which typically involves loading the AI with lots of human speech data.

Apple, on the other hand, is exploring ways for Siri to whisper in response. Digital Trends discussed Apple’s research, mentioning that it is the result of virtual assistants failing to respond to different kinds of speech, such as a whisper. Apple’s patent notes detail how they would always reply in a regular or loud voice, which may not be appropriate in certain situations. If the company manages to figure out the whisper functionality for Siri, not only will iPhone users give the AI commands in the middle of a meeting or at the movie house but may also have intimate conversations with her right before bedtime.

Speaking of intimacy, companies constantly add new functions for virtual assistants. As the industry continues to evolve, we see virtual assistants that are not only capable of carrying out mundane tasks, routine tasks but serve as virtual companions as well. For reference, check out MobInfo’s top virtual girlfriend apps for iOS and Android! These apps are examples of what some of the opportunities that virtual assistants have already expanded into. A virtual companion app typically features a human bot that can carry a normal conversation with the user based on its database of responses. Consider it a chatbot of sorts, just with an often digital representation of a human.

The concept of an AI companion is not limited to apps, of course. In fact, various industries are looking into implementing virtual assistants in their services. At present, Bangalore IT companies Mindtree and Manthan are developing virtual assistants for retailers in order to aid shoppers in making informed decisions. The plan is for consumers to speak certain keywords and the assistant will pull up some suggestions for them to purchase. These are essentially chatbots with high-level language processing techniques.

Banking and finance would benefit from more advanced virtual assistants too since the industry’s firms always have a large staff and mountains of paperwork to sort through. Virtual assistants may help downsize bank branches and aid people in their transactions. In the future, there may be no more requirements for bank tellers to assist customers.

It doesn’t stop there, as health care also provides a great opportunity for virtual assistants. The technology can be beneficial to both medical practitioners and patients. Doctors may use virtual assistants to research patient history or make quick researches on particular symptoms and diseases. They can also refer to AI dashboards to check their appointments of the day. Meanwhile, patients may utilize a virtual assistant to set up medical appointments and check with health insurance companies.

Lastly, there seems to be a lot of promise for virtual assistants in the gaming world. Usually, in a video game, players can speak to in-game characters using any of the available dialogue options. With the incorporation of speech recognition capabilities, the interactions become more dynamic, thus the gameplay is enhanced. Although there are no notable games with such features yet, some games have added virtual assistant features in a different manner. This is evident in mobile gaming which has integrated virtual dealers. One of the first to use this feature was Slingo with its live casino dealers that cater to users looking to enjoy classic tabletop games. Similar to virtual companions, these virtual dealers have human representations, making the gameplay more immersive.

Virtual assistants may still need fine-tuning, but users can help make them smarter with daily use. Basically, the more tasks a user teaches the AI, the more it will be able to do. These assistants are equipped with machine learning algorithms that help AIs remember specific commands. With those skills, they are able to make proactive suggestions to the user, such as reminding them to attend a meeting or prompting them to visit a recently Googled restaurant.

The technology is only scratching the surface at this point but we can definitely expect its upward trend in the coming years. The advantages these AIs bring to humans are numerous, and in a world where people constantly invent solutions that focus on convenience, these virtual assistants will soon become a necessity in households or to any person with a smartphone.