An intelligent virtual assistant (IVA) or intelligent personal assistant (IPA) is a software agent that can perform tasks or services for an individual based on commands or questions. Sometimes the term "chatbot" is used to refer to virtual assistants generally or specifically accessed by online chat. In some cases, online chat programs are exclusively for entertainment purposes. Some virtual assistants are able to interpret human speech and respond via synthesised voices. Users can ask their assistants questions, control home automation devices and media playback via voice, and manage other basic tasks such as email, to-do lists, and calendars with verbal (spoken?) commands. A similar concept, however with differences, lays under the dialogue systems.
As of 2017, the capabilities and usage of virtual assistants are expanding rapidly, with new products entering the market and a strong emphasis on both email and voice user interfaces. Apple and Google have large installed bases of users on smartphones. Microsoft has a large installed base of Windows-based personal computers, smartphones and smart speakers. Amazon has a large install base for smart speakers. Conversica has over 100 million engagements via its email and sms interface Intelligent Virtual Assistants for business.
Voice assistants are featured in mobile devices, laptops, and smart speakers. They're trigged by 'wake words' like "Alexa" or "Ok Google". The device records your question or request and then responds according to either pre-programmed "skills" such as activating a smart light or turning on the television, or by finding and defining information that is available online. The advancement of the voice assistants supported by Artificial Intelligence and Machine learning is rapid.