Oxford English Dictionary Adds Virtual Assistant and Updates Voice Assistant to Latest Edition
Virtual assistants were officially defined by the Oxford English Dictionary for the first time. Combined with updates to digital and voice assistant definitions, this marks a major milestone for voice AI as a consumer product and concept.
The OED regularly rolls out new and updated entries for its extensive catalog of words and phrases. The June 2021 Update adds or adjusts 700 new and old terms and idioms. These newcomers include the name virtual assistant, defined as a “program (or device running a program) that can respond to commands or questions and perform tasks electronically.” Although already in place in the OED beforehand, the terms voice assistant and digital assistant have seen their definitions expand with similar expressions, all in reference to the popular definition of interactive voice AI.
“[Y]You’ll find additions such as a video tutorial (first recorded long before YouTube was even thought of, in 1984) and a virtual assistant; programs and devices such as Amazon’s Alexa, Apple’s Siri, and Google’s Assistant are also represented in this update by new entries for Personal Digital Assistant, Voice Assistant, and Assistant digital,” as the OED explained in a blog post about all the new and updated words.
The OED adding and expanding terms related to voice AI puts a semi-official stamp on the concept’s place in popular awareness. Dictionaries aren’t going to include a term without at least broad usage, and pop culture appearances of voice and virtual assistants have grown rapidly over the past couple of years. The recent Netflix movie, The Mitchells vs. The Machines even saw Oscar-winning actress Olivia Colman play a voice assistant named PAL (Predictive Algorithmic Learning) who tries to take over the world. But with semi-regular appearances on everything from The Muppets to The Simpsons, the question was only when, not if, modern voice assistants would earn the prestige of an OED entry.
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