Oxford English Dictionary Adds Virtual Assistant and Updates Voice Assistant for Newest Edition
Virtual assistants have been officially defined by the Oxford English Dictionary for the first time. Combined with updates to the definitions of digital and voice assistants, this marks a major milestone for voice AI as a mainstream product and concept.
The OED regularly rolls out new and updated entries for its vast catalog of words and phrases. The June 2021 update adds or adjusts 700 terms and idioms both new and old. That new arrivals include the noun virtual assistant, defined as a “program (or device running a program) that can respond to commands or questions and perform tasks electronically.” Though already in place in the OED beforehand, the terms voice assistant and digital assistant saw expansion in their definitions with similar phrases, all in reference to the popular definition of interactive voice AI.
“[Y]ou’ll find additions such as video tutorial (first recorded, well before YouTube was even thought of, in 1984) and 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 digital assistant,” as the OED explained in a blog post about all of the new and updated words.
The OED adding and expanding voice AI-related terms sticks a semi-official seal on the concept’s place in popular awareness. Dictionaries aren’t going to include a term without at least some broad usage, and the pop culture appearances of voice and virtual assistants has rieen quickly in the last couple of years. Netflix’s recent film, The Mitchells vs. The Machines even had Oscar-winning actress Olivia Colman portray 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 gain the prestige of an OED entry.