Amazon Alexa vs Virtual Assistant

The term Virtual Assistant (VA) is often bandied around, but it seems to mean different things to different people. I’ve worked as a VA for a few months now, and can vouch for my job being completely virtual – I work for 3 clients across the UK and we communicate via email, skype and text. But I can also guarantee that I’m 100% real.

Now there’s a new ‘VA on the block’ that isn’t quite so real: Amazon’s Alexa describes herself as: ‘an intelligent personal assistant’. Challenged by a robot, I decided to do battle.

 Real VA vs. Virtual VA

I have to arrange travel for my clients all the time, so I decided to test Alexa’s travel booking skills. Here’s how the conversation went:

Me: “Alexa, book me a flight to Glasgow.”

Alexa: “Sorry I’m not sure.”

Hmmm not a great start. So I made it a bit easier for her.

Me: “Alexa, how long will it take me to get to Birmingham Airport?”

Alexa: “Your current location is 18.7 miles, 30.2km from Birmingham airport. As I don’t know your speed I can’t tell you how long it will take.

Slightly surly for an assistant I thought, but I could see her point. Alexa deals in facts only – and clearly isn’t interested in ‘going the extra mile’ for clients. So I simplified my question again.

Me: “Alexa, what’s the weather like in Glasgow?”

Alexa: “In Glasgow it’s 12 degrees with mostly cloudy skies. Today you can expect showers with a high of 16 degrees and a low of 10 degrees.

Amazon alexa

Hannah vs alexa

At last I had some genuinely helpful information – but nothing I couldn’t get from checking a weather app or website. So after Round 3, I crowned myself the ‘Virtual Weight’ Champion of the World (if only!).

Two VAs are better than one?

But while Alexa didn’t put up much competition in the Battle of the VAs, I did realise that she has her uses, especially when I’m practising that age-old female skill of multitasking. (Asking Alexa to add washing up liquid to your shopping list while you’re still washing up must give sliced bread a run for its money.)

Here are some Alexa questions that help me in my role:

  “Alexa, what’s the time in New York?” – perfect when I’m setting up meetings across time zones.

“Alexa, what’s John’s commute?” – if Alexa knows your home and work addresses, she can tell you how long the journey will take.

“Alexa, add order print cartridges to my to-do list” – one less thing for me to remember.

 Alexa in training

But I can’t rest on my laurels. While I’m losing about 200 thousand brain cells every day, those clever developers at Amazon are making Alexa even more intelligent. And you can already give her another 14,000 skills by adding certain apps to your phone.

For example, if you register with you can ask Alexa to send texts for you – you just dictate your message and Alexa takes care of the rest. And on the subject of travel, download the Airport Security skill and Alexa can give you current wait times at airport checkpoints.

Sidekick with a sense of humour

One of the downsides of being a Virtual Assistant is the lack of office banter. So if nothing else, it’s good to know that you can have a giggle with Alexa. Here are a few questions that are guaranteed to put a smile on your face. Why not give them a try?

Alexa, what makes you happy?

 Alexa, what is the meaning of life?

 Alexa, can you give me some money?

 Alexa, where are my keys?


designated PAAuthor – Hannah Smith – PA at Designated PA

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