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You probably get by just fine in your day-to-day life without a personal assistant. Now—thanks to the latest Artificial Intelligence technology—you can enjoy the benefits of having a digital personal assistant in your home. But why would you want to add a voice-activated smart device to your home? Well, let's take a look at all the ways a virtual assistant can make your life easier.
First, you need to know what your options are. The big four assistants are Alexa, Cortana, Siri, and Google Assistant. Alexa is ‘the brain' behind Amazon's devices that you can now converse with. Cortana is the voice of Microsoft's personal assistant. Cortana started out as a character in the Halo video game series, believe it or not! Siri is the delightfully sassy AI that people talk to when addressing their Apple iPhones or other devices, and Google Assistant is the AI inside Android devices. All four are great at their jobs: making our lives easier.
With a virtual personal assistant, you can do a lot more with your work and leisure activities just by vocalizing it, and Siri, Cortana, Alexa or Google Assistant will do the rest. Next, let's break down what each of these four apps can do for you and learn some of the secret commands that not everyone knows.
Alexa is best recognized by the blue light that plays around the top of the column or the circular base of the speaker when the assistant is active. The main areas where she can assist you are: music & entertainment, calling & messaging, news & information, answering questions, help around the house, smart house management, shopping, and skills.
Alexa can stream songs from your playlist, from her database, the radio, Spotify, Pandora or iHeartRadio. She can now also play audio books and even read books aloud off of your Kindle, and with voice casting, you can move to another room and not lose your spot in whatever you are listening to at the time. You can ask Alexa for updates in the news or on your favorite sports teams and she won't repeat anything she's told you before (thanks to voice recognition). Alexa can also help with communication, making it more hands-free than before. Simply tell her to call someone, dictate the message you wish to send, or read the text or email you received without having to look at it. Alexa can be a lot of help around the house---you can use her to control and monitor your climate, lights, garage, and any device you connect her with. She can also play or help with games, give quizzes and ask trivia questions, share some jokes, read a bedtime story for your kids, or play some white noise/music/audiobook until you fall asleep. Finally, Alexa Skills lets you discover or create your own skills; such as advice on investing, cooking, managing your fantasy football team or even work out sessions--- making Alexa more personalized to you and your needs.
Cortana's skills include inquiring about the weather, making a phone call, updating you on the top headlines, showing messages from a specific person, performing simple calculations and conversions. She can draft messages, take notes in OneNote, define words for you, track packages and launch numerous programs and websites. She can also sing and make person-based reminders. Cortana will happily assist with your calendar, set reminders and alarms. You can have her search through pictures, videos, documents, files and anything else on your devices. In terms of entertainment, she can look up sports info, the runtime of movies, control your music playlist, and identify songs. Cortana is also helpful with navigation and transportation. She can keep track of all your travel plans as well as offer assistance while traveling by providing translations and converting currency. In addition to all these things, she has some great tricks, jokes, games, and “surprise me!”
Next, there's Apple's digital assistant Siri. She was the first on stage and she is just as helpful as ever. She was released before Alexa or Cortana, and she performs a similar range of tasks to the other two digital assistants. Siri is also known to be a little sassier, which many people find more entertaining. The most common use of Siri is asking her questions. It can be a random question like “what happened today in history” or a question seeking advice on what to do for the evening, like movie times, restaurants nearby or the weather. Siri is quick to provide the answers and happy to help. You can even ask her to search for recipes, set timers, alarms, reminders, or calendar dates, and make shopping or to-do lists. Siri will also help you communicate with others hands-free via text, email, Tweet or Facebook post. She will read aloud your received messages and convey your speech to text when you wish to respond to a message.
If you don't have an iPhone, your cell phone likely has Google Assistant on your homepage or waiting in your search bar. If you've got a question, just say, “Ok, Google” and then ask your question. Like Siri, it is used mainly to answer random questions in our daily lives. What movies are playing near me, who won the 1942 World Series, when the next solar eclipse is and any other facts we might want to know. Yet, Google Assistant can do more than just answer our questions. For starters, it can control your phone and adjust the settings by vocal command. So you no longer have to dig through menus to make the screen less bright or turn on your camera.
Google Assistant can also perform tasks such as open apps, make calls, send messages (text and email), manage your daily schedule, set alarms and timers, take notes, set reminders, show specific pictures, and even post on Twitter and Google. Google Assistant can also help with navigation, whether you have a place in mind or not. For example, you can just ask Google Assistant how far your destination is, how to get home from your current location, or what pizza places are nearby.
You can do all of these tasks yourself, but you most likely already find yourself in situations where you're multitasking—or your hands are occupied or dirty—and you can't use your phone right that second. For example; imagine you are busy baking, you're kneading dough and completely covered in flour, but then you realize you forgot to tell your spouse to pick up milk on their way home. Maybe you just want some music, but don't want to get flour all over the speakers or your computer. Or maybe you just want to start a shopping list of the ingredients you'll need to replace, just so you don't forget. And of course, there might be times when you're out in the garage—with your hands covered in grease—and your friend argues that the oldest baseball stadium is Fenway Park, and you need to double check to see who's right without stopping the work you're doing.
Let's face it, life goes by pretty fast these days. Maybe faster than ever, and we all need to be able to multitask now and again. Stop forgetting the milk on the way home from the store. Stop trying to keep track of your kids' sports schedules in your head. If you're over-scheduled at work, you can make a list and start planning out how to tackle everything in a timely manner. All with the help of a little digital assistant that goes everywhere you go. Stay on top of your schedule, keep your shopping lists organized, and lighten the mood with a hands-free music request whenever you feel like it. Everybody around you will be wondering how you manage to do it all so effortlessly. You don't need to tell them that you've got a digital assistant in your back pocket. Just let them wonder.
All four of these digital assistants can do a great job helping you stay better connected, more organized, more creative, and more relaxed. You'll soon wonder how you ever did it without having your own personal assistant.