To what extent does a virtual Assistant exhibit Cognition?

Humans have long been fascinated by the concept of machine thinking and working like a human, at least intellectually. Though there might be potentially devastating consequences of a machine becoming as intelligent as humans, we simply cannot deny that they could be of great help and improve our daily lives.


Cognitive AI has been powering virtual assistant services throughout their existence. The capabilities of virtual assistants are increasing year by year and With various virtual personal assistants showing very advanced and high intelligence capabilities, it is common for anyone to get curious as to what is a virtual assistant ai? and to what extent this “cognition” they exhibit would go.

In this article, let us try to understand exactly that. However, before that, we must understand what cognition means and what to think of when software exhibits cognition.

What is Cognition?

Basically, cognition is a state of awareness of an entity of its surroundings and an ability to evaluate it and give an intelligent response to the stimuli. To define more formally, it is a mental action or a process of a being in which it acquires understanding through thinking, experience, and senses which it uses to communicate with the world.

Other than being able to “sense” the world, the cognitive being must have the intelligence to understand and react to it and also have a working memory.

Humans have intuitive cognition which is developed through a lot of means. However, a machine exhibiting cognition means that it is also “aware” of its surroundings and gives intelligent responses if we interact with them.

How can we test the Cognition of a Software?

In humans, cognitive capabilities are tested by making them do various activities that require a certain level of cognition. So, a similar form can be used to test and assess the level of cognition of software.

This actually can be seen as the core idea behind the Turing test, which is a thought experiment that goes like this: a computer is hidden behind the doors of a room and a man would be communicating with that computer by sending them written notes. If the computer manages to answer all queries satisfactorily without a man getting doubt, the computer wins!

Artificial Intelligence is actually divided in general into weak AI and strong AI. The former one being Artificial intelligence that works only for a subset of problems and requires a lot of training material to solve a new set of problems and the latter is a general AI that can solve almost all problems that are given to it. Strong AI has not been developed fully yet, so much of the development is still ongoing.

So, this is the first limitation we see with today’s AI. Which is that they can exhibit only finite cognition in limited fields onto which they are trained on. There is another general problem associated with the present state of AI — — black-box nature.

That is, much of all machine learning models used in practice are black boxes and we do not easily know how exactly a particular decision is made and so, we cannot look at “process” and come to a conclusion whether the machine is “thinking” and going through “right steps” of intelligence in giving an answer.

So, what can we do? One easy way is to look at various examples in which virtual assistants give intelligent responses and analyze how intelligently they handled the situation.

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Cognitive Capabilities of a Cognitive Virtual Assistant

Here, let us see various examples of how an intelligent virtual assistant would respond to a query and analyze it from various viewpoints of cognition.

Memory Retention

When using memory, we can understand that a virtual assistant would have an exceptional memory where it is able to access an appropriate memory when there is particular use.

Consider you are talking to a virtual assistant regarding going to a place for a vacation. Think that you told it a very while ago that you like to go to a particular place in the winter season. Now, when you ask a virtual assistant to suggest a place to visit, the virtual assistant would check that the current season is winter and from an understanding of your interests, it may suggest to you places that really suit you.

Not only this long-form memory retention, virtual assistants can also retain current context across various previous messages and thus can give intelligent answers based on previous conversations.

Understanding Spell Mistakes and Paraphrases

The ability to understand spelling mistakes and paraphrases signifies that a virtual assistant is cognizant enough not to take for granted that what you type to be correct and includes complete intent. Even though you give an incorrect input or do not specifically specify intent, the virtual assistant would extract the correct intent and proceed with the next actions.

For example, let us think you have given an input when my event is scheduled? Then, it might understand that you have asked when your event is scheduled. Also, you did not specify what event you have asked for. The virtual assistant tries to guess the most appropriate event that you might ask about and would provide a response based on that.

Understanding long-form Sentences

Understanding long-form sentences signify that a virtual assistant is able to break sentences down and can still understand the overall intent and meaning of a sentence.

For example, if you provide Hi I am John Doe. Currently, I have a mid-tier plan. I Am not satisfied with it. Either solve my problem or get me a higher plan. Then, the virtual assistant would understand that you are somewhat angry and tailor its response. Also, it first asks about the problem and if the problem is not solvable easily, then provides information regarding higher plans. If you are still not satisfied, then your request, with all appropriate information, would be forwarded to a support representative.


From the above analysis, we can come to a conclusion that virtual assistants, with help of cognitive AI technologies, exhibit exceptionally good cognitive capabilities. The capabilities would exhibit intelligence in discerning the intent of the user and also remember and understand the context.

So the limit of a virtual assistant to exhibit cognitive capabilities cannot be specified as such, except for the fact that it’s limit is just to our imaginations. The existing attributes and level of intelligence is certainly growing with a drastic pace.

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To what extent does a virtual Assistant exhibit Cognition? was originally published in Chatbots Life on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.