Digital virtual assistants are popping up everywhere, promising that soon a computer will make your life simpler. But these systems are still limited. At best, home assistants like Apple's Siri, Amazon's Alexa, and Google Assistant can book you a taxi, turn on the music, or turn down the heating in your home.

Perhaps one day, these AI assistants will understand you well enough to do your scheduling, booking, and admin, but they are not there yet. Human lives are complicated and filled with surprises, so until digital assistants understand the complexity of human life, you need a better alternative.

For decades, people have tried without success to outsource personal tasks too remote, digital, and virtual assistants. So why is the timing right now? It’s all about four converging megatrends all happening right now.

The on-demand economy.

It's booming!

The on-demand economy is replacing traditional business models faster than we anticipated. The services coupled with a couple of apps empower instant provisioning of goods and services. You can order a car service, have your dry-cleaning picked up, stock your fridge, easily ship items, delegate tasks to a tasker and plan the quickest route home, all from your mobile phone. Discovering and evaluating these services has never been easier, as recommendation and rating systems have reached a critical mass of trustworthy consumers sharing their experiences.

Thanks to these services, someone on the other side of the world can research, schedule, and book the things you need, using quality recommendations from people just like you. An assistant can check the traffic for your commute or book the best restaurant for your lunch, even though they’re half a world away.

Twenty years ago, it would have been impossible. Now it’s an opportunity waiting to be taken.

Globalization and automation are hitting white-collar workers

For decades, automation has forced blue-collar staff to work harder or see their jobs eliminated. Now white-collar workers and service industry professionals are feeling the same pressure. Technology promised to give us back our time. Instead, efficiency gains have put pressure on office workers to do more. Machines don’t do work-life balance or long lunch breaks, and now people are expected to keep up with them.

People living in high-cost areas around the world are feeling the strain, as they work harder than ever to keep up. Half their free time is spent in traffic getting to and from offices. Admin support has been stripped away, replaced with apps that save the company money but force skilled staff to do their own admin.

So much time has been lost that people miss out on the things that give life meaning, whether it’s family, friends, or time to relax.

They’re constantly on the go, working harder every day just to live in the same areas where their parents lived or put their children through the same schools they went to.

Young, well-educated professionals are pouring into the global labor market at an unprecedented rate

They’re skilled, energetic, and willing to work long hours. Historically, they had to relocate to big cities or spend hours every day commuting if they wanted to find a good job, but technology and gig-economy business models have changed that. Now ambitious professionals can work wherever they are. 

Big tech companies are investing heavily in digital assistants 

Today, we rely on computers for everyday tasks. From Amazon wish lists to Google calendars, we use them to organize our lives, and so we’re producing data on an unprecedented scale.

Big data is the fuel for AI’s growth. That’s why the world’s leading technology companies are investing billions of dollars in digital assistants and encouraging us to outsource our lives to machines. Home automation systems like Alexa aren’t just a product to be sold, they’re a way of generating more data to feed growing AI.

The concept of digital virtual assistants and ‘personal process outsourcing’ isn’t new. Apple’s first attempt at a digital personal assistant, Newton, came out in 1995. What is new is that we’re being prepared to live and work alongside AI. We’re being teased with the promise of a digital assistant for everything.

But computers still can’t fulfill that promise. 


Technology + humans

Tech companies believe that, with AI and NLP in place, the time is right for digital assistants. But until computers learn about empathy, until they can understand the subtle complexity of human life, they will keep making mistakes.

A digital assistant can’t understand your request correctly every time – the technology simply isn’t there yet. A human layer of empathy is needed on top of all this technology, bridging the gap in quality between growing AI and consumer expectations. What is now possible is the combination of humans and technology (humans + AI) combining the fast calculation of AI with the empathetic understanding a human assistant brings.

This combination can be particularly useful for busy executives. You understand the value of your time and the benefit that could come from dealing with less admin. You also understand that your life is too complex to be left in the hands of a machine. A machine can’t understand your priorities, preferences, and activities when it’s booking your meeting or planning your route home.

Thanks to an enormous supply of skilled, affordable labor, combined with advancements in technology, it is now possible to meet the growing demand for support services globally, and this is why the timing has come for the virtual assistant economy. With the right combination of high-quality staff and cutting-edge technology, the time has come for busy people around the world to be able to live the life tech companies have promised. At the tap of an app, virtual assistants can now lift the burden of tedious tasks, freeing busy people’s time for the things that matter, whether that’s building the next Fortune 500 company or more leisure time with friends and family.