Today’s Wonder of the Day was inspired by Meili. Meili Wonders, “ How is Siri so intelligent? ” Thanks for WONDERing with us, Meili!

Have you ever had a chat with Siri? Do you ask Google to play your favorite song? Have you ever had Alexa order a pizza for dinner? Today’s voice assistants can help you out with just about anything!

Voice assistants are programs on digital devices that listen and respond to verbal commands.  A user can say, “What’s the weather?” and the voice assistant will answer with the weather report for that day and location. They could say, “Tell me a story,” and the assistant will jump into a tale. The user could even say, “Order my favorite pizza,” and dinner will be on its way!

Voice assistants are so easy to use that many people forget to stop and WONDER how they work. How do voice assistants understand us? Is it magic? A complex system of codes? An actual person listening on the other end? The answer is less complicated than you might think.

It all starts with a signal word. Have you ever called a friend’s name to get their attention? Users say the names of their voice assistants for the same reason. They might say, “Hey Siri!” or simply, “Alexa!” Whatever the signal word is, it wakes up the device. It signals to the voice assistant that it should begin paying attention.

After the voice assistant hears its signal word, it starts recording. The device waits for a pause to know you’ve finished your request. The voice assistant then sends your recorded request over the Internet to its database.

Once in the database, your request is compared to other requests. It’s split into separate commands your voice assistant can understand. The database then sends these commands back to the voice assistant. Once it receives the commands, the voice assistant knows what to do next. The device might ask a question to make sure it understands what you want. If it thinks it understands, the voice assistant will carry out the task you asked for.

If you’ve ever used a voice assistant, you know all of that happens very quickly! If you say, “Hey Siri! What’s the weather?” Siri reports back to you in seconds. The more directions the devices receive, the better and faster they get at fulfilling our requests.

Voice assistants are improving all the time. They learn the same way people do. Have you ever asked a voice assistant for something and received results you didn’t expect? Each time this happens, the voice assistant learns from its mistake. If you say, “Alexa, play rock music,” and it plays country music, you’ll tell Alexa to stop. That teaches the device that the command it received from its database was wrong. It communicates that with the database and tries to do better next time.

Voice assistants can do just about anything you can think of. They answer questions, make calls, and can even control parts of your home like the lights and thermostat! Does this sound like the stuff of science fiction? Think again! Over 35 million Americans already use voice assistants, and the number is growing! What requests will you make?

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