A lot has been written recently about a category of software agent-based capabilities often referred to as ‘intelligent personal assistants.’

The most well-known ones – Apple Siri, Samsung S Voice, Google Now – are with us at all times on our smartphones.  They typically take spoken-user questions and use the appropriate underlying sources of information like our current location to deliver timely, valuable services.

Intelligent personal assistants are good at helping with a lot of fairly basic tasks.  But wouldn’t it be great if they excelled at some of the more complex tasks they tend to struggle with today?  Well, the good news is that, like most promising technologies, intelligent personal assistants are about to get a lot better.

Voice-controlled search and navigation are two of the early areas where personal assistants are making life easier.  They help us learn where things are – the closest hotel, sushi restaurants in the area, a theater showing the latest movies – and they give us detailed directions on how to get there.  These and other capabilities, however, will experience significant improvements going forward.

Among the capabilities that are advancing rapidly is speech recognition.  Already, speech-to-speech translation can enhance our experience of visiting places where language has traditionally made communication difficult, if not impossible.  With today’s capabilities, we have to share a single device for this purpose.  In the future, we’ll experience the same high quality translation in real time while each of us speaks on our own phone.

Another exciting area is cross-platform capabilities.  As they emerge from labs and become standard features across products, they’ll ensure that our personal assistants can seamlessly continue to act on our behalf even as we switch our attention from our smartphone to our TV (or other devices) and back again.

Relying on big data and predictive analytics, our assistants will seem even more personal as they become smart enough to anticipate what we’ll need next, often before we know we need it.  Finally, the predictive capabilities begin to seem even more like magic as they’re not only combined with other reliable inputs – our location, for example – but are also able to communicate, via a variety of software-based services, with other applicable devices.

Getting immediate assistance from devices like our smartphones is a great step forward from where we were a couple of years ago.  But having that assistance become even more ‘intelligent’ and ‘personal’ is going to be even better.