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Geo 101: What Are Intelligent Assistants?

Alexa, explain why everyone is talking to their devices.

From geo-targeting to voice search, technology is opening up a world of possibilities for marketers. But it’s also complicated, as new capabilities and use cases seem to emerge every day.

With the goal of breaking down some of the most important concepts to provide a better understanding of the basics — and a jumping off point for exploring how far the power of location may take us — we introduce the next installment of our GeoMarketing 101 series: understanding intelligent assistants.

What Are Intelligent Assistants?

Simply, the term intelligent assistant (or intelligent personal assistant) refers to software that uses artificial intelligence (AI) to perform services or tasks for a user.

Most people today are familiar with some form of intelligent assistants, even it is by another name: Siri is one example, allowing users to ask questions and make voice searches — assisting them by returning structured, “intelligent” answers. That’s where the term comes from. But we’re not talking about AI robots cleaning our homes — at least, not right now. What do these intelligent assistants do?

What Can Intelligent Assistants Do?

While intelligent assistants can be either text or voice-activated, the majority  are voice-based, which is where the focus is today.

Popular examples include Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant, Microsoft Cortana, Apple’s Siri, and more. Since these popular IAs are all voice-activated, they allow users to address them and ask questions about a variety of topics. They are “knowledgable” about the weather, sports, movies, directions, and more. Users can also ask intelligent assistants to complete tasks such as play music or set a calendar event — essentially, they are just what the name describes: personal assistants.

And the existing IAs — as well as whatever other upstarts will come along — are getting better at doing what they do. It’s still early days, but it’s expected that there might be specialization from the makers of intelligent assistants: Might Amazon’s Alexa be better for one niche than Google’ Assistant? We don’t know yet, but here are some of Voice Labs’ predictions from the 2017 Voice Report, one of the more comprehensive reports on voice-first devices alone released this year:

AI Assistants have started to specialize, and this will become more pronounced in 2017.

  • Google is going to excel at mining the web and providing intelligent responses to general knowledge questions.
  • Amazon is going to excel at commerce.
  • Google and Microsoft should excel at email, contacts and calendar.
  • Microsoft has a huge opportunity to excel at gaming.
  • Google and Amazon are going to battle for hands-free TV and home automation.
  • Apple is betting on AirPods for on-the-go use cases, and should have an Apple TV voice strategy.
  • All players will battle to become the go to controller of the kitchen, living room and bedroom.

These are all just predictions. But what’s clear is that the battle for dominance in the voice-first, personal assistant space is hot — and getting hotter.

Why Do They Matter Now?

After the Amazon Echo and Google Home came on the scene last year — powered by their intelligent assistants Alexa and Google Assistant, respectively — the game changed. Reviewers focused on the sophistication of Alexa — which could not only read the news and provide answers to questions but banter with users — and the growing ability of both systems to interact with and control an increasing number of smart home systems.

Now, as Amazon and Google continue to advance the sophistication of their respective IAs, with Amazon touting the release of “one or more new Alexa-powered devices this year that will allow people to initiate phone calls by voice,” Apple is prepping its own rival to Amazon Echo based on its intelligent assistant, Siri. As we wrote earlier this week, we may be headed toward the broader “connected intelligence” moment, in which intelligent assistants will power more and more aspects of consumers’ lives — from directly calling a restaurant or business for a user to helping them transact across a plethora of sites online.

Ultimately, voice search changes the dynamic between people and businesses, and it could call “the entire utility of a website” into question, Birchbox CEO Katia Beauchamp told GeoMarketing’s Lauryn Chamberlain in a conversation about the changing nature of digitally-driven commerce. Marketers and consumers should be aware that things are about to change — and fast.

Read more about intelligent assistants and the world of “connected intelligence”:

Apple Preps Amazon Echo Rival – Is This The Connected Intelligence Moment?

What The ‘Voice-First Revolution’ Means For Marketers

Amazon Alexa To Let Users Make Voice Calls

How Retailers Can Drive Foot Traffic Through Intelligent Search