Digital Assistants Briefing Paper

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Business Brief

While their concept has been around for decades, only recently have digital assistants (DAs) began to provide a strong, reliable and wide range of abilities. Digital assistants are software agents that are able to perform countless different tasks for users. Recent digital assistants, such as Google Assistant and Apple’s Siri, are developed to be voice activated and respond and perform a service from a user’s natural language.

Tasks that were traditionally performed by secretarial positions are now able to be done by digital assistants. These tasks can be anything from managing personal information, providing appointment reminders, storing contact information, sending messages and much more. With their long-lasting durability, various functional capabilities and easy to use interface, DAs are very capable of providing useful support within any organization


Technical Brief

Digital assistants are a software agent that performs various tasks and services for their users. Das, such as Google Assistant, use voice commands to control applications and handle these requests. This recent development to virtual assistants makes it extremely easy for end users to master using the software. The device built-in microphone parses a user’s voice to be registered using natural language processing (NLP). The requests made by users are stored in data centres which aid in the service delivery to software’s users. Based off users’ history, digital assistants are now using previous information to deliver services to users with a higher accuracy.

At a high level, voice activated digital assistants are constantly operating at a low processing rate until a key word is heard to notify the DA a request is about to be made. For example, Google Home listens to its surroundings until the words “Ok Google” are said aloud. Digital assistants then translate a user’s proceeding commands into text that is analyzed by multiple algorithms to execute a task. These algorithms break up the requests into key parts, that makes it easy to send emails, messages, or store records.

Industry Use

Digital assistants offer an easy way for users to operate in their daily tasks with ease. This can eliminate a lot of the time individuals spend typing emails, documents, checking for updates and more. The potential time digital assistants can save could have countless benefits for industry. As digital assistants develop, their capabilities increase rapidly. Digital assistants can even sync across far distances which redefine what it means to work virtually. This means corporations can use the assistants to give instant voice messages, send broadcasts, play audio and more.

Digital assistants, such as Amazon’s Alexa, are already being implemented in businesses across North America. DAs are being used to notify IT desks of technology-related issues, to begin conference calls, to locate open meeting rooms, to operate office lights and even to check security camera feeds.

Canadian Government Use

There is a great potential for Digital Assistants to aid within The Canadian Government (GC). Online digital assistants can be used to provide an easy way to serve Canadians. Once a request from a user is registered, digital assistants can provide immediate answers inferred from data centres stored across the Government of Canada. Digital assistants can retrieve and provide useful information from terabytes of data that public servants themselves may not be able.

In addition, digital assistants are able to provide a huge improvement on an employee’s productivity. In a survey conducted by AtTask and Harris Interactive, employees reported spending 45 percent of their time doing work that was required to their primary roles. Digital assistants can bridge that gap by performing tasks such as administration, HR and emailing. Doing so can increase work force efficiency, save money and improve the overall service delivery of the GC.

Implications for Departments

Shared Services Canada

Value proposition

Digital Assistants will enable the Government of Canada to process large amounts of data to improve service delivery to stakeholders, clients and Canadians. DAs can also increase employee productivity helping them focus on tasks core to their mandate. With developing AI, the benefits of DAs will be realized across the GC’s departments concerned with management, legacy systems and human resources to name a few.


The challenges with digital assistants are extremely important to note due to their level of severity. The issue with digital assistants is the security threat they can pose. Since the majority of DAs is voice activated, they are vulnerable to attacks such as the DolphinAttack. Cyber criminals can resonate commands to devices such as Siri at a frequency inaudible to the human ear, but still clear to DAs. By doing so, these cyber criminals can use the DAs to visit malicious websites or pose the DAs questions critical to the operation of the GC.

Following these, voice-activated DAs can be prone to spying. Cyber criminals can compromise the DA’s system, allowing them to hear top secret conversations and use built in cameras to see those involved. In addition, most of the newer DAs are constantly listening. They use low power processing that is constantly listening for a command to be posed. Cyber criminals can retrieve this potentially secret data and send it to other agencies, third party corporations and others.

Dept X

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