A Virtual Agent is an computer generated, animated, artificial intelligence virtual character (usually with anthropomorphic appearance) that serves as an online customer service representative. It leads a intelligent conversation with users, responds to their questions and performs adequate non-verbal behavior.
The term Virtual Agent is typically used by the professional chatbot industry. Sometimes it starts with a prefix intelligent or interactive, such as Intelligent Virtual Agent (IVA) or Interactive Virtual Agent, and is a synonym for chatbot.
The term is also used by scientists, especially within the human-computer fields, human-robot and even human-human interaction. There is also an academic event International Conference on Intelligent Virtual Agents (IVA), an interdisciplinary annual conference, which is the main forum for presenting research on modelling, developing and evaluating Intelligent Virtual Agents. During this event, scientists discuss theoretical challenges, demonstrate working applications and gather for networking activities.
An example of a typical Virtual Agent is Louise, the Virtual Agent of eBay, created by a French/American developer VirtuOz. Watch the video to see how the Virtual Agent Louise provides advice, guidance and assistance to help users finding information and answer their questions.
An Intelligent Virtual Agent may also appear as holographic projections welcoming customers in a hotel lobby, restaurant or business office reception. Watch this video to see how Globalzepp Interactive Solutions integrated this futuristic and impacting holography technology within a futuristic Virtual Agent.
Diane Clarkson, analyst of research agency Forrester is also writing about the development of the chatbot market using the synonym Virtual Agent. Amongst many interesting articles, Is A Virtual Agent Right For Your Web Site? is one of the most interesting articles as it describes how today’s Virtual Agents can guide consumers through a website while answering questions and giving complex answers in an effective way.
The term Virtual Agent is a composite of two words: virtual and agent.
The word virtual dates back to late XIV century as “influencing by physical virtues or capabilities” from Latin virtualis, virtus - “excellence, potency, efficacy”. The meaning of “being something in essence or fact, though not in name” is first recorded in 1650s, probably via sense of “capable of producing a certain effect”. Computer sense of “not physically existing but made to appear by software” is attested from 1959.
The word agent dates back to late XV century meaning “one who acts”, from Latin agentem, present participle of agere - “to set in motion, drive, lead, conduct”. Meaning “any natural force or substance which produces a phenomenon” was first recorded in 1570s.
Initial use of the term Virtual Agent dates back to 1995, it appeared in the paper Specification by-Example of Virtual Agents Behavior written by Alberto del Bimbo and Enrico Vicario, Italian researchers from Visual Information and Media Lab at University of Florence.
Examples of Virtual Agents
Virtual Agent pages
Although we use chatbot as the main synonym on this website, please do not be confused. There are more than 161 synonyms in use by academics, business and virtual agent enthusiasts! It is simply a matter of reading between the lines.
Please check out our main directory with 1213 live virtual agent examples (an overview as maintained by developers themselves), our vendor listing with 180 virtual agent companies and virtual agent news section with already more than 365 articles! Our research tab contains lots of papers on virtual agents, 1,166 journals on virtual agents and 387 books on virtual agents. This research section also shows which universities are active in the virtual agent field, indicates which publishers are publishing journals on humanlike conversational AI and informs about academic events on virtual agents. Also, check out our dedicated tab for awards, contest and games related to the virtual agent field, various forums like our AI forum by virtual agent enthusiasts and add any virtual agent as created by yourself and your colleagues to our virtual agent directory. Please do not forget to register to join us in these exciting times.
A selection of pages on this website using 'virtual agent':
Alternative usage of Virtual Agents
The term Virtual Agent is also used to describe people working for call centers on a distance, who can be intelligent as well Such Virtual Agents work most likely remotely - virtually through the Internet, from their home offices. These people are not virtual, but real people. However, as they are not working at an office and still carry out their work, it might feel a little bit virtual. Anyway, it is a very popular alternative use of this term.
The Virtual Agent market is closely connected to Virtual Assistants industry. In fact, they are synonyms; only Virtual Agents are Virtual Assistants working remotely in Real Estate or Call Center branches. The acronym (VA) is the same, therefore, when searching for Virtual Agent you will often land on pages concerning Virtual Assistants.
Alternative titles that may be used for Virtual Agent are: Virtual Professional (VP), Virtual Associate, Service Provider, Virtual Business Manager (VBM), Personal Assistant (PA), Independent Contractor, Online Business Manager (OBM).
Among companies that hire Virtual Agents, is Alpineaccess which calls itself the world’s leading outsourcer of call center services using home-based, virtual customer service agents. They hire virtual agents as their employees.
Other companies which hire virtual agents include: Working Solutions, Accoladesupport, Customerloyaltyconcepts, Liveops, Sciathome, Acddirect.
Speaking about Virtual Agent market, in 2010, more than 200,000 people worked ‘virtually’ from their home offices in the United States, according to one of the leaders in the Virtual Agent industry, Arise.
And over 15,000 home-based agent partners work globally (USA, UK, Canada) just for Arise.
Another firm, Virtual Agent Services, founded in 1999, links small groups of geographically diverse Virtual Agents to maximize labor quality and availability while maintaining economies of scale. They are one of the oldest firms in this branch.
Notary Eagle Professional Services invented and wrote 101 Ways to Use VA. In this very profound listing they explained the potential of having virtual secretaries, virtual graphic designers, virtual researchers, etc.
One can see that the alternative usage of the term Virtual Agent is already widespread and very important. Therefore, we do not advice the chatbot industry to use this term in order to avoid confusion. Even analyst companies do not use consistent terminology. Referring to chatbots, Forrester uses the term ‘Virtual Agent’, while Gartner uses the term ‘Virtual Assistant’. Unfortunately, both terms are highly disputable due to possible mistakes and misunderstandings of the right meaning.