Searching Troubles with a Virtual Assistant

So far my experiences with virtual assistants (VA) have been pretty limited. By virtual assistant I mean something like Google Home or Amazon’s Alexa, rather than a person helping remotely. However, I know a lot of people who use them. They often tell me about their favorable experiences.

The hands-free, voice commands are tempting to me, but I can’t seem to get past the creep factor. Or my paranoia that the VA is always listening (and secretly recording) whatever I’m saying. And my strong suspicion that whatever is recorded never gets deleted.

Even if I could get past all of that, I have serious issues with the searching. If I pose a question to my VA, how can I be assured that the answer is good quality, or credible. Sites like Wikipedia, or those owned by private companies, often show up as the top search results. Are these the kinds of resources a VA will be using to reply to my queries?

As a trained information professional (i.e., librarian), I’m skilled at validating resources. I would never rely on something like Wikipedia for an answer, without confirming it in another source.

Using a VA to get answers keeps me in the dark about where they came from. I’m unable to confirm the source or make my own selection as to which one looks the most trustworthy. It’s healthy to question sites that could have proprietary interests or bias. But if the answer is verbally communicated to me, I have no way of knowing what other options were available.

I also have questions about how the search history is maintained. For example, what if I wanted to refer back to one of the responses, where would this information be stored? If I look it up on my own, I can always bookmark a site, take a screencap, or download the information.

I’m sure for certain kinds of generic, common knowledge questions (i.e., weather forecast, specific dates, etc.), the VA could be useful and accurate. I think the key to getting a credible, valid response from a VA is being selective about which questions to ask it in the first place.

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