Intelligent Assistants and the Internet of Things as the Next Marketing Landscape

Publication by IGI Global in the Encyclopedia of Organizational Knowledge, Administration, and Technologies forthcoming Summer -2020

Edward Forrest University of Alaska Anchorage, USA

Christina McDowell Marinchak University of Alaska Anchorage, USA 

Bogdan Hoanca  University of Alaska Anchorage, USA


As observed for the past several decades, society has experienced a series of recurrent and distinct paradigm shifts in the capabilities and applications of Internet technologies. Beginning with the concept of Web2.0, conceived by Darcy DiNucci in 1999 (Aced, 2013), it has become a common and conventional conception that beginning with the World Wide Web’s commercial availability in the 1990’s, a new iteration in its character and contours emerges approximately every ten years. Accordingly, these defining intervals of the Web’s evolution have been summarized as:

With new iterations of the Web, society also experienced a change in the essential computing platform configuration and user interface used to connect and interact with our ever-expanding digitized world. To this point, over the course of the past three decades portals to the digital world have expanded from desk and laptop pc’s, to mobile phones and tablets. Input modalities have gone from moving a mouse, typing keywords, clicking buttons and hyperlinks to tapping apps, pinching pages and swiping screens. Society has lived through the “Google-dominated web-based information retrieval of the 00s, yielded to the Apple-Android mobile duopoly and the warehouse of apps paradigm of the 10's,” have entered an era of “intelligent cloud computing” that is increasingly guided by AI infused apps and services and are now moving to the next iteration, Web 4.0, which will be defined by “ambient computing via the Internet of Things” (Ward, 2016). Together with ongoing exponential take-off of the Internet of Things (IoT), the emergence of voice-based virtual assistants as a primary user interface provides the necessary and sufficient condition for the next paradigm shift. Advancing the proposition that platform and user interface (UI) shifts go hand and hand, Kinsella (2019) observes "voice assistants represent the third key UI and technology platform shift of the past three decades, following the web in the 1990’s and smartphones about 10 years ago. Each of these UI changes was accompanied by a new technology platform. The World Wide Web was built on the back of the Internet, and PC proliferation enabled web pages to be easily accessed. Smartphone mobile operating systems such as iOS and Android were important developments, but the app economy also relied on the introduction of cloud computing for efficiently delivering content along with regular feature updates and performance enhancements. Voice computing relies on artificial intelligence for speech recognition and natural language understanding. It is also being used to dynamically improve user experience."  

Transformation to this new paradigm will be both simple and swift. Indeed, if for no other reason that humans generally speak three times faster than typing (Leonard, 2019), it is a safe bet that “natural language will be the primary interface in the era of ubiquitous and mobile computing … In the past, we had to learn the computer’s interface; now we get to interact with the computer using the human interface—natural language” (Lam, 2019). Whereas, consumers needed to learn new coding languages and techniques for interacting with previous technology platforms, “the shift to voice doesn’t require any training … users simply “speak” as they do naturally (Kinsella, 2019).

This entry explores the ramifications of this latest technology platform shift. Just as the Web precipitated the emergence of e-commerce and the smartphone enabled the explosion of social media, the advent of a voice-based interface that allows people access to, communication with, and control of most anything in our world—via the IoT. To date, the authors of this entry have published a series IGI articles which have explored the nature, magnitude and rate of impact that artificial intelligence was having on business processes and marketing practices, including Artificial Intelligence: Marketing’s Game Changer (2015), The Impact of Artificial Intelligence and Virtual Personal Assistants on Marketing (2017) and Artificial Intelligence: Redefining Marketing Management and the Customer Experience (2018). Accordingly, the objectives of this entry are threefold: review the findings of these initial, and other related articles, in the context of their relevance to the changing business/ marketing landscape defined by voice based interface (VBI) to a world connected to an Internet of Intelligent Things (IoIT); understand the technical specifications and broad-based applications of VBI will be delineated along with the ramifications occasioned by the global diffusion of the IoIT; and, explore the ramifications of this new landscape will be examined through analyses of the most prominent examples of digital assistants that are in use or development.


Today, people have access to digital assistants that can instantly access and analyze any type of data (structured or unstructured) across multiple databases and answer (in the language of your choosing) any question you propose. There are an ever-expanding variety of digital assistants readily available with a simple salutation, to serve as a personal concierge. In addition to organizing a person’s everyday activities and controlling every system in their life (home entertainment, security, utility, appliances), these personal digital assistants can also serve as virtual companions and friends that know every mood, taste, and desire. Programmed to know a person’s exact mix of personality traits and accurately predict every move and preference, today’s digital assistants are quite capable of being very personal indeed.

Society is on the cusp of a time wherein all will be able to take on the powers of a Dr. Dolittle, but instead of talking to all the animals, people will talk with all the “things” on the Internet. People live in a world where the possibility exists to construct a digital twin that monitors every action, learns patterns of speech and behavior, and anticipates every need; instead of a physical “mini-me,” there is now a virtual “digi-me.” Moreover, it is predicted that in the not too distant future, the powers of a person’s “digi-me” will prove superior to peoples mere mortal selves as it takes on the ability to remember and access everything experienced throughout an entire life. As envisioned by Roemmele, by using technology that already exists today, his “Intelligence Amplifier” will “capture and store, from the moment you’re born to the moment you die … everything you’ve ever seen, everything you’ve ever read, every comment you’ve made, every comment you’ve heard” (Fisher, 2019). Today, there exist only 61 known cases of   hyperthymesia, a condition that “causes people to remember just about everything that has occurred in their life … every conversation and emotion ever experienced … every person encountered, regardless of how insignificant or minute” (Malcolm, 2019). With digital assistants empowered with Roemmele’s “Intelligence Amplifier,” the number of people on earth with “digitally-induced hyperthymesia” could easily rise from 61 to 6.1 billion.

The Changing Business and Marketing Landscape: Research and Observations to Date  

A Redefinition of Marketing Management: From Managing People to Managing Algorithms. Throughout the last decade there has been an exponential increase in the number, variety, and capability of marketing applications, platforms and services that perform, control, influence and/or integrate virtually every marketing task and decision. In 2011, when the monitoring of the Marketing Technology (MarTech) Landscape began, only 150 applications were available to marketers. By 2018, over 6,800 automated and cognitive process applications were available. As of 2019, it appears that the world has reached peak “MarTech,” as the number of solutions only increased by about 200 to reach 7,040 (Aussant, 2019). It is now the case that for any and every marketing function and task that needs to be completed, there is “an app for that:” Currently, there exist at least 370 apps for e-mail management, as there are hundreds to select from for any and every marketing task—search engine optimization, website design and analytics, social media monitoring, customer transactions, profiling and relationship management.


As more and more companies begin to employ more and more technologies to perform more tasks across more functions of the organization, roles and workflows are being reexamined and subsequently reimagined and restructured. This is becoming the case, one only need examine the evolution of the technology stacks submitted the past five years by scores of companies to the Stackie Awards (Brinker, 2019). Herein, companies annually compete on the basis of what company can best illustrate the number and variety of marketing technology tools that they use to conceptualize, conduct, and advance their marketing activities. No longer is an organization’s competitiveness defined by an organizational chart that only lists the names, titles, and hierarchical positions of the people that run/manage the business. Increasingly, an organization’s competitiveness is being defined by and dependent on the collaborative intelligence derived from the software tools, services, and interconnections that a company uses to effectively execute every business activity across every function. As most every task becomes inextricably linked to AI, robotics and related software systems, it is imperative that one take on an expanded mindset as to what management fully involves, and on this point it is increasingly clear that management necessarily involves the management of apps and algorithms as well as people. 

A Redefinition of the Customer Experience. Having a technologically adept organization running a well-integrated MarTech Stack that integrates software across every function and at every step of the customer journey all contribute to the improved, if not optimal, customer services and experiences. A highly integrated technology stack enables marketers to instantly and individually adjust every element of the marketing mix: the exact nature, attributes and price of the product, the style and delivery of promotional messaging and customer relationship management services and interactions. Marketers no longer need to draw inferences of who customers are or what customers want from periodic surveys, sample estimates, or consumer segments. The days of segmenting entire populations and assigning purchase probabilities and media exposure rates for such unrefined targets, as “women 18-49 years old,” are long gone. With the advent of cognitive computing marketers have the ability to analyze continuous streams of structured and unstructured data, and ascertain the individual consumers’ traits, tastes, sentiments, and personality and predict personal purchase behaviors, preferences and sales probabilities. Indeed, in the course of the past five years, AI enhanced research and analytic applications have enabled marketer’s to find, read, and analyze a consumer’s every search, post, tweet, pin, video message, product evaluation, credit card purchase, media consumption preference and/or any and every other bit of information that can be gleaned in the infosphere about the consumer. It is now common practice that AI-apps are used in the areas of customer service, sales assistance, and relationship management, and used to create custom commercial messages for individual consumers based on their user profile and media behavior and campaign materials are modified in real-time, to maximize consumer interest and message retention (Marinchak, Forrest, Hoanca, 2018). 

As a consequence of the individual profiling and heightened customer service that AI-based technology affords, it is increasingly the case that the new requisites for marketers include: the ability to offer “faster than real-time” customer service and solve customer before they arise; “hyper-personalize” marketing efforts which focus on the individual, not the average customer; “unparalleled ease of use,” which is paramount, given that “convenience is the new measure of loyalty to a brand and loyalty can be measured by the most user-friendly interface” (Van Belleghem, 2017). In the adherence to and adoption of these points, Amazon not only serves as best example, but serves as the very definition, of the new marketing imperative: 

Amazon-ization … refers to the wholesale disruption occurring across retail and e-Commerce … Adopting a more agile, responsive and data-focused approach... Artificial Intelligence (AI) allows retailers to understand and analyze this data, mining actionable insights to better understand consumer demand and preferences to create better customer experiences. (Weiss, 2019)

And when it comes to enhancing the customer experience, intelligent virtual voice assistance is the latest, and perhaps greatest, game changing technology. From the consumers’ perspective, the emergence of a virtual personal assistant that can learn, predict and serve their tastes, needs and desires and optimize their product/service purchases is a welcome development. Once more, the fact that it can be effortlessly accessed, just by speaking, is an added bonus. Talking beats typing and swiping most any day. Thus, it is   no surprise that the most widely adopted virtual-voice “shopping” assistant, Alexa, is an Amazon invention.    

Over the course of the past decade the principle purveyors of voice-based digital assistance have all introduced and perfected their services: Apple’s Siri (October 2011), Google Now (May 2012, Microsoft Cortana (April 2014), Amazon Alexa (November 2014), and Google Assistant (November 2016). Albeit, it can be argued that society has entered an entirely new and distinct marketing landscape as the tipping point has been reached in terms of capability and availability.


The Tipping Point in Voice Capabilities 

To date, voice-based digital assistants have remained as astonishing as they have been frustrating. Misunderstanding what users are saying, spotty performance in delivering the responses and information expected, has limited consumer satisfaction, adoption and use. However, with the debut of Google’s Duplex in 2018 and Microsoft’s “multi-turn-multi-domain-multi-task-dialogue” in 2019, it can now be declared that interaction with intelligent assistants has reached parity with human conversation. Duplex solved the problem of semblance with its capability of mimicking the exact nature and pattern of human speech right down to the ums and ahs. In fact, with the ability to so perfectly mimic human conversational style and substance, Duplex has begun to raise privacy issues concerning violation of two-party consent laws, which requires all parties involved in a conversation to agree to being recorded (Coldewey, 2018). Moreover, the complex problem of understanding the free-flowing and nuanced context of human queries and conversation has been solved. Where previously, the question: “what are my options for booking a flight to Chicago next Friday?” would not have been able to be accurately processed, now, not can the digital assistant decipher the phrase, but also it can “take the action of looking up flights on your preferred airlines, reading them aloud, and even booking a reservation in your name once you’ve selected one” (O'Donnell, 2019). No longer limited to one and done conversations, wherein one specific question is asked and one answer given. Conversational AI enables a dialog that is guided by the context of the preceding action first interaction and the intent of the question.

User: Hey Cortana, what's the weather today?

Cortana: The forecast shows light rain with a high of 47 and a low of 42.

User: Should I bring a jacket?

Cortana: Yes, you'll probably want a jacket today.

Herein, the virtual assistant has “learned what the words you say mean, what your own preferences are, and then what discrete actions need to be taken toward an expected outcome” (O'Donnell, 2019). Before these technical breakthroughs, consumer adoption of voice assistants was already rapidly expanding. No matter how measured—ownership, expenditures, use or applications—the growth of voice based assistants has been exponential. The number of unique users for virtual digital assistants will grow from 390 million worldwide users in 2015 to 1.8 billion by the end of 2021and revenue is forecasted to grow from $1.6 billion in 2015 to $15.8 billion in 2021 (Smartsheet, 2019), and the number of digital voice assistants is projected to register a growth rate of 220%, as the number of voice assisted devices increases from 2.5 billion in 2018 to 8 billion in 2023 (Juniper Research, 2018). While Smartphone assistants remain the largest platform by volume and use, Juniper’s research found that the fastest growing voice assistant categories over the next five years will be Smart TVs (121.3% CAGR), Smart speakers (41.3% CAGR) and Wearables (40.2% CAGR). These projections are indicative of a most important phenomenon unfolding at this very point in time. That is, society is now experiencing the transition to a world with the capability of virtual-voice interaction with a virtual voice assistant embedded in virtually anything, available virtually anytime anywhere.

Tipping Point: Ubiquitous Intelligent Voice Assistance

The underlying operating principle driving our current paradigm shift can be stated as: “Anything and everything that can be digitized, automated, connected and cognified with AI and accessed via a voice interface will be. To the point, every person, place, platform, product and thing on earth (and beyond, if one includes satellites, lunar and Mars missions, etc.) is now an existing or eventual node on the Internet of Intelligent Things (IoIT). In much the same manner as we turned electricity into a commodity to power the industrial revolution, we are now commoditizing intelligence to drive the cognitive revolution. As Kelly (2018) observed:

Anybody can buy power. You just plug in, and you do what you want with it … 150 years ago a farmer looked at his hand-pump and said, ‘I can add electricity to this, and make a powered pump.’ Do that many, many times and you get the industrial revolution. Now we’re at the second phase—we’re adding minds to things. We’ll take the electric pump and add AI. Now we have a smart pump. We’re sending out minds as a service, as a cheap commodity on the grid, as an AI utility that anybody can purchase … My formula for the next 10,000 startups is take X, add AI. Find something—the more unusual, the more unexpected, the more counterintuitive, and the better. The AI is cheap. It’s the interface you’re adding to AI that makes it valuable. 

And herein, it is argued that voice control is emerging as the most valuable interface to AI-enhanced entities of all. Since 2017, the IoT has had all the necessary technological ingredients for its exponential expansion—energy efficient sensors and wireless RFID tags (cheap enough to be all but disposable), universal expansion of broadband and cellular networking and the adoption of IPv6 (which enables the provision of an IP address for every device the world). By the end of 2017, there were already more things connected on the Internet (8.4 billion) than there were people on earth (7.6 billion). By the end of 2020 estimates range from 20 to 30 billion devices, and by 2025 we may be experiencing an IoT growth rate of 152,000 devices being added per minute, resulting in an IoT population of 80 billion (Kanellos, 2016). Over the course of the next decade, the availability of voice interaction with an intelligent agent will move well beyond every smartphone and become available in every house, room, office, automobile and appliance, as well as be embedded in the clothing we wear and products we buy. Moreover, not only what we buy, but how we buy is in the process of being determined by the availability of and interaction with voice assistants. Given its ability to provide consumers with “ultra-personalized, two-way engagement” with a brand and generategreater engagement, insight, sales and satisfaction… it is predicted that by 2023, voice assistants alone will drive over $112 billion in annual retail sales” (Ravensbergen, 2019).



Society is in the beginning stages of this next paradigm shift. Over this next decade this on-going exponential growth and innovation in capabilities will result in billions of people spending hundreds of billions of dollars to purchase the ability to converse with tens of billions of devices that will assist them in whatever they are doing, no matter where they are. Already, it has become clear, how and how fast companies are reacting to this reshaping of the technological landscape. For those companies with the largest and most entrenched interests, such as Google and Amazon, the strategy appears simply to be—do whatever it takes to defend and expand your market position. Doing whatever it takes, includes employing 10,000 employees to work on a single voice assistant platform such as Alexa, and involves betting billions of dollars in voice assistant and smart speaker technology that you dump on the market at a quarterly loss. Case in point, “Google Home Mini is sold at a loss every time it is discounted, which is frequently’ (Kinsella, 2019). In defense and expansion of their dominant market positions for Google in search advertising, for Amazon in online commerce, the principle competitive growth strategies are market penetration and innovation. Google expanded its voice assistant’s availability from 400 million, in 2018, to over a billion devices in 2019 by leveraging its distribution through Android phones and Google Home, Auto and TV devices. In contrast, to developing a voice assistant that is available on most anything, Amazon seems to have concentrated its efforts on developing a voice assistant that can do most anything. While presently confined to 100 million Echo speakers Amazon’s Alexa can perform no less than 59,000 skills, and is advancing at a rate of approximately 85 skills per day. Alexa serves as your personal concierge connecting one to everything from your car insurance and media subscriptions to your preferred sources of entertainment, education or prayer and meditation (Tell, 2017).


Along with Google and Amazon, every major tech company is launching initiatives to establish and expand their presence and share of the voice assistant market. Amazon Alexa, Apple Siri and Google Assistant are all expanding their focus from the consumer to business users with prototypes of voice based intelligent assistants with the ability to provide on demand analytics,  proactive reporting, and automated task execution, “all without the need for pesky logins or dashboards” (Doddala, 2018). Even Facebook, the only major tech company that currently does not have its own voice assistant, announced at its May, 2019 shareholder meeting that it is going to begin working on products that use a new AI assistant that responds to voice (Rodriguez, 2019). 

Thus, it remains the case that success in the world of virtual assistance will necessarily be measured in the assistant’s ability to understand not just the language but also the meaning and context of what the user is saying. Coupled with the advancements in machine learning and sensor technologies, today’s virtual assistant can also recognize and classify most any entity, and sense and predict most any phenomenon. Ergo, the next generation of virtual assistants has arrived and appears ready to fulfill the promise of the all-knowing and all-powerful entity that is always ready to provide an answer to the question, complete a given task or perform the function of an entire business domain.  

Virtual Assistants – Specialized by Business Sector and Function

Case in point, Amelia, touted to be the “world’s most sophisticated virtual assistant” and demonstrably the world’s first “digital worker” that can be hired in much the same way as a human employee. Presently, Amelia can be hired to perform any of 672 tasks relevant in in industries ranging from banking, insurance and retail, to healthcare, telecoms and media. Amelia can be delivered through multiple channels on a platform that is available 24/7, is highly scalable in its capacity to handle high volumes of transactions and information queries and has the ability to hold natural language conversations in more than 100 languages across chat, voice or social media platforms. If you would like to interview and/or hire Amelia, rather than “going to, LinkedIn, or Monster,” Ipsoft (2019) suggests you go to its “1Store.” Wherein, “businesses can go through the same hiring process they would with a human, including looking at previous references from other firms that have analyzed how well bots have worked, as well as “interviewing” them to see how they would perform certain tasks” (Robinson, 2019). Research finds that whereas businesses achieve only 6% return on AI investment, Amelia’s clients can exceed (Robinson, 2019).

Similar results can be documented with other digital assistant services such as Bank of America’s ERICA. In just one year since its launch in 2018, Bank of America’s conversational intelligent assistant ERICA, drawing on its a knowledge base of 400,000 financial questions, has a completed over 50 million client requests, and is engaging with 500,000 new users per month (Top, 2019). In the Marketing arena there is LUCY. Trained in natural language processing and machine learning algorithms, LUCY “ reads and learns every document and data asset that you feed her—she never leaves, never forgets and becomes smarter every day” (Roetzer, 2019). Able to answer most any question and execute any traditional marketing task (be it in research, creative or media), LUCY has proved a most valuable assistant. For example, “if one were searching for comparative, detailed sales data for one of your company's brands, but you don’t know the exact internal classification systems that division uses for its sales—you could simply ask Lucy: What are the division’s sales by product category? And, Lucy would provide you with a customized report with the sales data organized by product category from a done by a market analyst who left the company two months ago. She also returns a second result pulled from a slightly older PDF... and a third result from a word document ... used in an internal meeting” (Equals 3, 2019).    

Virtual Assistants: Specialized for Consumer Segments

Together with the growing array of digital assistants designed to assist with the execution of business functions and tasks, there is a growing range of agents being designed and developed for specific consumer segments and services. In 2019, Intuition Robotics launched ElliQ, specifically targeted to “older adults,” and designed to be "the sidekick for happier aging." Physically it consists of a combination of a touch screen and table light, with a moving cylindrical robot head that can make animatronic movements. Practically, it is a voice-enabled home assistant that can make life easier for seniors by fielding vocal requests, making video calls, setting reminders for medication and arranging doctor appointments and providing companionship with its ability to play bridge (Gebe, 2019). On the other end of the age spectrum, Amazon has introduced a version of Alexa exclusively designed with functions and features for kids (Pringle, 2018).

There exist a growing range of digital assistants which are being employed for social and psychological support. There is Woebot, which “bills itself as your charming robot friend who is ready to listen, 24/7,” and uses artificial intelligence to detect emotions and is trained in the principles of cognitive-behavioral therapy (Pardes, 2017). There is Replika, originally developed in 2015 by a programmer to restore the presence of a friend who died in an accident. By imputing the entirety of all their email and text communications she had with the deceased she was able (through machine learning generated algorithms) impersonate the deceased individual’s likely responses and patterns of speech. Today, over 2 million people are using the Replika app to teach their “Replikan” how to speak and react to them.

Today’s Virtual Personal Assistants (VPAs): What does the “P” really stand for? The consumer’s existing preferences, spoken commands, and probable actions are all calculated and controlled by the technologies provided by just a handful of companies. In exchange for freely providing a steady stream of data on everything the consumer says and does and everywhere they go, consumers receive free access to and use of the companies virtual personal assistant, with the added benefit of knowing that the more information shared with the company, the better their virtual personal assistant will be able to optimize their lives. However, the perception that the free use of a Siri, Alexa, or Google Assistant is no more of a gift than was the Trojan-horse, is becoming more pronounced. More and more questions concerning personal privacy and consumers’ data rights are being raised. Of particular concern “is that virtual assistants, as they are designed today, could have a far greater impact on consumer information than today’s websites and apps. Putting that information in the hands of one big company or a tiny clique … could erase what is left of online privacy” (Markoff, 2019). Indeed, under the current business model, terms and arrangements, it would be much more accurate to regard the P in VPA (the acronym for virtual personal assistant) to stand for Platform rather than Personal. Moreover, for both economic and technical reasons, the market predominance of platform-owned and operated virtual assistants will remain a given. As reported Amazon alone, has spent 100’s of millions of dollars and employed as many as 10,000 people to work on Alexa and Echo. In addition, as is the case for every major technology platform, developer programs add thousands of other individuals and companies to the workforce contributing to their products’ development. However, it is also the case that unique to voice platform development is the fact that voice-based intelligent assistants are not a technology that a business can wholly “outsource to companies like Amazon and Google…a business needs to keep its own data and its own customer relationships, and it cannot rely on companies that are or could become its competitors” (Lam, 2019). The need to control the relevancy, accuracy, and timeliness of information exchanged with customers along with consumers increasing concern for privacy is driving the market for virtual assistants that are truly personal. Recent surveys (Viveiros, 2018) report, “significant majority of U.S. consumers (73 percent) said their concerns over personal data privacy were increasing.”


Addressing this growing concern over personal data privacy as well as the providing an alternative to monopolistic virtual assistant platforms of the major tech companies is Almond, an “open-source virtual assistant system released in 2018. Almond allows users to build natural language applications which affords users “control over who, what, when, where, and how their data are to be shared” (Lam, 2019). Developers of Almond applications are able to connect their devices to the Almond virtual assistant through a free and open database called Thingpedia, wherein any developer or internet service provider registers the specifications for their application’s interaction with the Almond virtual assistant (Markoff, 2019). As declared on the Almond website: “Virtual assistants are the new interface to the Web.” Their vision for virtual assistants is threefold: democratize AI for linguistic user interfaces with open, collaborative research; available on an open non-proprietary linguistic web; and, allows users a choice in virtual assistant services and the ability to control how their data is shared. "There is a disconnect between the 'know-it-all, do-it-all' approach that current digital assistants are aiming toward and the highly personalized virtual assistance experience that consumers have dreams/nightmares about. Whoever can bring personal consumer data in a secure, non-creepy way to digital assistance will be able to bridge that gap and capture most of the opportunity" (de Renesss, 2019). 

With a high degree of probability it will be the case that whoever does bring that secure, non-creepy way to digital assistance, they will be employing Blockchain technology as the underlying platform. If users desire to solve the problem of control of their digital identity, and determine for themselves what information they want to share with other persons or organizations, Blockchain is the technical solution. As recently declared by Pulie (2019), “identity is going to be returned through Blockchain back to the individual so that the individual will own their data and then be able to marshal it out based on what’s best for them as opposed to how Facebook or Google or other people may want to exploit it.”


With digital agents soon to be surpassing the number of humans on earth (De Renesse, 2017), it may be time to reconsider William Gibson’s quote: “The future is already here – it's just not evenly distributed.” The on-going proliferation and universal distribution of digital assistants is an established fact and may well prove to be the one of the most disruptive phenomenon in history. In a very real sense the emergence of the artificially intelligent digital assistant fulfills the “Frankenstein-ian” vision of creating an alternate life form, but with algorithms derived from machine learning, as opposed to stolen body parts from a graveyard. Just a few decades ago it was thought that only humans could draw inferences from past experience, understand uncertainty, draw and modify conclusions, interact through voice, gesture, and touch, let alone communicate with other machines, devices, and “things on an internet” (Chamberlin, 2014). This assumption has been disproved. Moreover, the capabilities and applications of digital assistants that will be possible in the immediate future appear to be equally astounding, if not unnerving.


Such is the present and near future state of our world.  Ubiquitous, omniscient digital assistants to answer any question, perform every task and meet every need. Albeit, the critical question remaining unresolved is for whom will these agents be really working? To whom will their ultimate allegiance and ownership truly belong? If one were to ask Alexa or any platform digital assistant: “What is a conflict of interest?” One would expect similar dictionary answers. However, ho would your platform assistant answer the question: “Alexa, do you have a conflict of interest?”  Vogel and Wright (2019) raised and addressed this very scenario. 

Whether Alexa or Google Assistant wins the battle to impregnate our homes with their artificial intelligence, we humans will develop personal and emotional relationships with our new gadgets. That will spawn a vast new conflict of interest: the dual roles of companion and sales associate, the one-two punch of fulfilling emotional needs that ripen us up for commercial appeals. The business models for the leading digital assistants rest on e-commerce and advertising. The A.I. will learn from billions of conversations to create powerful new persuasive methods. You might remember how Google’s A.I. beat the Go champion and developed invented “God-like” new strategies. Moreover, it’s not really one digital assistant—it will be personalized to hundreds of millions of people. That scale and speed, plus A.I.’s inherent opacity, leave almost no chance for human oversight and control. The A.I. will turn the digital assistants into armies of super salespeople exploiting the emotional relationships built with their human owners.    

Major impacts are being felt and major questions are being raised. Are jobs being enhanced or replaced? Are our lives being diminished or embellished? The exponential rate of development and adoption of digital assistants is a fact. As with other rapid and sweeping shifts in society’s communication channels and information technologies, it is the case that its effects are being more experienced than understood.

However, Vogel and Wright’s above scenario of super intelligent digital assistants wresting control of their human user/owner’s decisions and relationships could very well be the future. The development of the digital assistant’s superior responses and recommendations are an inevitable consequence of its underlying programming logic of federated learning; wherein, over time the digital assistant’s algorithms are continuously perfected based by the user’s experiences, evaluations, results and insights. AI, through all its applications, and most prominently though intelligent digital assistants, present both threats and opportunities. The responsibility for thousands of tasks is being conceded and millions of persons are in the process of being replaced. Billions of digital assistants are already at work and billions more are being developed and adopted for every business function, every personal need and consumer device. Accordingly, intelligent digital assistants and assistance will be an integral and necessary companion in and component of life.


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1) Digital Assistant:  General category of software program that responds to human input and commands  to execute designated  functions , answer specific questions, monitor defined environments  and/or perform particular tasks.

2) Virtual Assistant: Synonymous with a digital assistant , yet more precisely refers to an application interface that is voice based and conversational, and is in fact virtual, in so much that  it resides in primary in the form of an unobtrusive digital device- as opposed to a robot with human or  life-like features.

3) Intelligent Assistant=   Digital/virtual assistant  with the most advanced cognitive abilities and analytical skills  -  derived from the application of deep learning and the generation of algorithms capable of learning on its own from patterns in data as opposed to pre-programmed instructions

4) Chatbots:  Conventional distinguished from digital/virtual, intelligent assistants  by virtue of being a text based vs voice based interfac 

5) Internet of Things: Expanded Internet interconnections to any object, place, device or “thing” with a unique identifier (UID), and thus capable of communication with and control by any authorized person or computing platform.

6) Internet of Intelligent Things: Expanded Internet interconnections to objects, places, devices or “things” with a unique identifier (UID), and advanced communication and control capabilities premised on cognitive computing applications and platforms.