Digital Assistants vs. Digital Companions

December 17, 2020

We rely heavily on digital assistants in our daily lives, to make our work easier and faster. The statistics of people who use digital assistants is growing rapidly, and it is expected that those numbers will continue to grow.

There are 4.2 billion digital assistant units worldwide today, and forecasts indicate that the number will increase to 8.4 billion by 2024, which’s higher than today’s world population.

Digital assistants are very easy and convenient to use, but the current technology makes digital assistants very limited today.

Due to this limited nature of digital assistants, the need for a more seamless, dynamic, and all-around improved assistant arises. This has led to a development in digital assistants known as digital companions.

This article provides an extensive comparison and discusses the interrelatedness between digital assistants and digital companions. It enumerates their applications in a real-life situation, their benefits, and future expectations.

An overview of digital assistants

Digital assistants are advanced computer programs that simulates a conversation with the people who use it, mostly over the internet.

Digital assistants use the following to provide a personalized conversation experience:

  • Artificial Intelligence (AI) – Simulation of human intelligence through programming in a machine to mimic human actions.
  • Natural Language Processing (NLP) – refers to automatic manipulation of a natural language such as speech and text through software.
  • Machine Language – refers to a collection of binary digits or bits that a machine can understand.

Just as the word digital assistant implies, their primary purpose is to assist us in our daily tasks, either by providing short-cuts, quick information, automation, and/or simplifying routines.

We use digital assistants in various forms, like in our smartphones, speakers, etc. The interaction of digital assistant takes place through hands-free Voice User Interfaces (a system that allows users to interact through voice or speech commands) and text or visuals.

Examples of digital assistants we use today are Siri, Alexa, and Google Home.

Digital assistants are affordable, convenient, and user-friendly and are primarily used to save time and carry out commands. They respond to our requests reactively rather than engaging us proactively.

An overview of digital companions

Digital companions are just an improved version of digital assistants. In a way, they assist us in many tasks, in a personalized, seamless, and fun manner. They are interactive to the user.

Digital companions learn and remember what we like or dislike each time we interact with them, such as individual preferences and needs. They also assist us in understanding and choosing, among many options, or the best course of action.

In other words, digital companions interact with us proactively as opposed to digital assistants, which do so reactively.

A future digital companion will have a two-way relationship with the users based on empathy, trust, and anticipation of needs and preferences.

They will be able to make suggestions that will positively fit people’s interests and influence their behaviors. In other words, this is an ideal idea for digital our companions.

We use digital companions in automating management and employee experiences. It can be used in performing common tasks such as resetting passwords, system status updates, and outage alerts.

A comparison of digital assistants and digital companions

The table below will showcase the fundamental differences between digital assistants and digital companions:

Distinctive point Digital assistants Digital companions
Interactions They are primarily based on commands. Both pro-active and command-based.
The direction of information exchange Create a short and one-sided direction. Create more extended and bidirectional exchanges.
Modality Use a single primary modality, for instance, voice or text. Use multiple modalities, e.g., voice, movements.
Character and Personality Have a generic character and personality. Have a more personalized character for each user.
User experience Experiences are homogenous for all users Experiences are personalized for each individual.
Actions execution Based on user commands. Based on context and goals.
User information Incorporate very little information about the user. Remembers user needs and preferences.

Applications of digital assistants and companions

The applications of digital companions, especially if we consider future application around the corner.

Digital companions are applied but not limited to the following fields:

  • The educational field, for example it can be used in financial aid queries, spelling checks, study reviews, etc.
  • The automotive and mobility industries, for example, one can ask the locations of gas stations and general directions.
  • Banking and finance, as it can be seen in automatic teller machines (ATMs) and 24/7 customer service.
  • Retail and hospitality, for instance, processing orders and reservations.
  • We can use digital assistants with in-home appliances to help with household chores, such as in smart homes, smart appliances, etc.
  • Healthcare and medicine - Digital companions can be used with patient tracking, medical referencing, and dosage information.

Benefits of using digital assistants and digital companions

  • They offer more services to the employees and customers and generate more routine service desk or customer service requests.
  • They are economical; they are less expensive when compared to human resources performing the same job.
  • They are more efficient and convenient.
  • They can learn with time, and through experience.

Conclusion

Due to the rampant development of technology, it’s only a matter of time before digital assistants evolve to the next form; digital companions.

Digital companions will create an entirely new experience for us. From the way we relate with technology; creating a more seamless, fun, and overall personalized experience.


Peer Review Contributions by: Lalithnarayan C


About the author

Pius Macharia

Pius is a computer science student at Moi University, Kenya. Passionate about technology innovations, machine learning, and web development. Pius is a writer on emerging trends in today’s world and issues generating positive impact in society.

This article was contributed by a student member of Section's Engineering Education Program. Please report any errors or innaccuracies to enged@section.io.