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virtual assistant chatbot

Are voice assistants and chatbots actually different?

30 Jul 2019

As artificial intelligence and voice technologies gain popular appeal, a lot of buzzwords get thrown around that we hear everywhere: chatbot, virtual assistant, bot, voice assistant, etc.

The differences between these terms and their meanings can easily be blurry. The distinctions and differentiations among these terms are valuable to keep in your back pocket the next time you’re having a chat about AI and voice.  

The definitions

Let’s start with a couple of definitions. A chatbot is an AI-powered software that simulates human conversation by matching keywords. It’s an automated program, a simple solution that takes the keywords of your question to figure out which is the best possible answer to what you ask. It is normally pre-programmed with 100-200 intents and variations to be able to assess what you might be asking and respond with pre-programmed replies.

Then, there is the voice assistant, also called virtual assistant or conversational AI, which is a digital assistant that is built on artificial intelligence, machine learning, and voice recognition technology. Specifically, voice assistants use automatic speech recognition (ASR) and natural language understanding (NLU) to try to understand what a user is asking. As you interface with the conversational AI, artificial intelligence uses advanced algorithms to train itself from data inputs and thereby improves at predicting your questions or demands. 

So, what’s the difference?

While voice assistants use high-level, intent-based hierarchy to understand what your sentence means as whole, chatbots use keyword-based search and, in the current common applications, tries to pass you on to a customer care executive or maybe move you to a better site where your answer might be found. 

The confusion can arise from the fact that “chatbot” is how the early versions of conversational AI were branded. It’s not wrong to say that chatbots and voice assistants are different versions of the same core technology. The discrepancy between them is comparable to how TV and smart TVs are different today.

differences technologies

– Contextualisation: one of the main differences is the way each technology maintains the conversational flow. As long as you interact with a chatbot, if the conversation is broken, then the bot will fail to recall the context of the communication. Unlike chatbots, a voice assistant usually uses dynamic conversation flow approaches in order to understand your intent, enhancing communications with people.

– Natural Language Processing (NLP): voice assistant have a solid foundation of NLP and NLU. Like our very own Snips Flow voice assistant, which power their advanced capabilities and achieve high levels of automation. On the other hand, chatbots are based on structured dialogue and are specifically programmed to answer precise replies to precise questions. Chatbots cannot reply to complex questions that are not programmed into them prior to the interaction.

– Scope and tasks: chatbots currently have a fundamental role with regards to customer relationship tasks, and their functions involve mainly information acquisition and provision. But chatbots can also be programmed for specific simple tasks, such as booking an appointment. The scope of virtual assistants is wider – they can be created for a broad range of functionalities. Nowadays, voice assistants are used, among other things, to make comparisons between products, in e-commerce in general, for stock market updates, to play music, or to manage smart devices.

Nevertheless, it’s not only important to understand the differences between these two types of technologies, but also to make sure you’re choosing the right technology for your specific business and customer needs.

If you’d like to discuss the best option for your products, services, and brand, consider Snips, the first embedded voice software that adapts to exact use cases. Our technology tackles the full spectrum of voice use cases, and our great sales team is ready to discuss your needs! Let’s talk.


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