Around one in four digital workers will embrace artificial intelligence in the form of business-focused virtual assistants in the new few years, a new report has forecast.

Research by Gartner predicted that by 2021, a quarter of employees (25 per cent) will use this technology on a daily basis, up from just two per cent in 2018. The firm suggested one reason for the huge growth will be the popularity of virtual assistants in the consumer space, which will help helped many workers build familiarity with what they are capable of and gain trust in the technology.

Van Baker, vice-president at Gartner, said: "We believe that the popularity of connected speakers in the home, such as the Amazon Echo, Apple HomePod and Google Home, will increase pressure on businesses to enable similar devices in the workplace."

He added that where there are still limitations on what virtual assistants can do in the business world, as the technology improves, employees will quickly expand the number actions they assign to these tools.

Currently, the vast majority of interactions with AI assistants can chatbots take place via text, but as AI-enabled speech-to-text and text-to-speech hosted services are improving rapidly, Gartner predicts that by 2023, a quarter of employee interactions with these tools (25 per cent) will be via voice.

The research firm identified several categories of AI-powered assistants that are set to gain ground in the coming years. These include virtual personal assistants (VPAs), virtual customer assistants (VCAs) and virtual employee assistants (VEAs).

It highlighted examples of VEAs such as Amazon's Alexa for Business, which can be used to help employees manage tasks such as scheduling meetings and logistics operations, and Nokia's MIKA, which aims to assist engineers to find answers as they perform complex tasks or diagnose problems.

Annette Jump, senior director at Gartner, said sectors that are showing particularly strong interest in VEAs include financial service and insurance, while VPAs and VCA will also find applications in areas such as IT, customer service and information queries.

“Ultimately, VAs used in the workplace and VEAs will increase employee productivity and foster constructive engagement," she continued. 

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