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virtual assistant(1) An individual who performs administrative functions for clients. See human virtual assistant.
(2) An application that provides a verbal exchange of questions and answers in the user's native language. Although virtual assistants are a feature in tablets, desktop computers and table top units, their inclusion in the smartphone made the phone an incredibly useful electronic companion.
Also called a "personal assistant," "digital assistant," "intelligent agent" and "voice assistant," Apple popularized the concept in 2011 with Siri, and Google, Microsoft and Amazon followed. See Siri, Google Now, Cortana and Amazon Echo.
Virtual assistants are also used to make phone calls and set alarms, reminders and calendar appointments, as well as turn on lights, music and other smart home devices. Over time, results become more personalized. Virtual assistants are the first embodiment of artificial intelligence used on a daily basis by millions of people (see AI). See chatbot and smart home.
A Reverse Evolution
Whereas countless applications evolved from desktop to mobile, the opposite occurred with virtual assistants. Starting out in phones and tablets, they migrated to the desktop and table top (see Cortana, Amazon Echo, Google Home and Apple HomePod).
Heavy Lifting in the Cloud
The virtual assistant is primarily driven by knowledge bases on the Internet. However, that vast amount of information is combined with the user's own contacts and calendar to provide very personalized assistance. See knowledge base, Semantic Web, AI and S Voice.