5 Amazing Things About Google Assistant
Google I/O exploded onto the tech scene this year when — for the first time ever — they changed the focus of the conference.
Instead of leveraging all the changes and updates they’re doing to Search, Google shined a spotlight on its Assistant.
Google Assistant, one of the world’s cutting-edge artificial intelligence, is ramping up in terms of consumer services for Google products, including the Android operating system.
Google’s teams are working on a lot of new updates, according to the keynote speech from this year’s I/O conference. In fact, it’s enough to warrant consumer attention turning fully to Google Assistant.
Here’s the gist: Google is moving fast with its Assistant platform because it’s essentially revamping smartphone use. The AI is becoming exceptionally good at listening, finding the appropriate reply, and answering in a human voice.
The cadence, rhythm, tone, and even notes of Google Assistant’s voice are scarily close to those of a human being. (Hear for yourself.)
But aside from sounding just like a person — or multiple people, depending on which voice you choose — Assistant is a giant technological leap forward for a lot of reasons.
First, we need to answer a big question.
Why does Google Assistant matter?
Why Is Google Assistant So Important Right Now?
Right now, Google Assistant is the Android OS add-on that a lot of people may use for simple tasks like opening different applications on their smartphones.
But in truth, its applications are much richer and more diverse than that.
Assistant is on par with Siri and Alexa in that it can give answers or tell a few jokes to keep users entertained.
In some cases, it can make their lives easier by carrying out simple actions — like scheduling something on Google Calendar.
But what if it could do more? And not just more, but what if it could do almost everything?
That’s the question that a lot of tech enthusiasts are asking right now. After all the science fiction books, movies, and video games that show an artificial intelligence, are is Google getting close to a real-life AI?
This question — and its many, many answers — form the core of Google Assistant’s historic moment at Google I/O.
For a long time, Google’s crown jewel was Search. It’s so ubiquitous that the search engine gave birth to a new phrase — “Google it” — that people use more often than “Look it up online.”
That level of branding, market penetration, cultural proliferation, and exposure is an achievement that few other companies can claim.
(Think “Kleenex” vs. “tissue,” “Coke” vs. “soda,” etc.)
So why on Earth would Google not focus on Search in the keynote speech of their own conference?
This question made a lot of people curious — and they got a series of answers that are truly jaw-dropping.
Some of them are neat. Some of them are fascinating. And others are a little bit scary.
But at the end of the day, these advancements in Google Assistant promise to show some incredible results over the next few years.
(Or at least until something more impressive comes from next year’s I/O conference.)
These five are the most impressive.
1. Google Duplex Integration
Google Duplex is a new Google property that promises to achieve different tasks over the phone via Google Assistant.
Want to make a dinner reservation? Duplex has you covered.
Want to schedule a trip? Duplex will do it.
Need to make a note to call your mom on Mother’s Day? Duplex will do it, Calendar will store it, and Assistant can ring her up for you.
Duplex is the latest in a suite of Google’s products that work together to form a seamless experience for consumer products, especially smartphones using Android OS.
But the really incredible part of Duplex isn’t on the surface — it’s in the algorithm’s inner-workings.
Duplex is designed from the ground up to understand user speech.
Whether you speak quickly, low, or long, Duplex will pick up your speech, understand it, and give you the appropriate response.
However, Duplex is designed to “speak” in a way that humans can understand it.
So if you don’t always speak clearly, don’t worry — Duplex will take your commands, relay them in the best way possible, and make sure it’s clear.
This is especially important for tasks like reservations or appointments. Duplex will call on your behalf and actually speak to the person who answers the phone.
It’s almost like a legal auto-dialer that helps you (and businesses) get stuff done.
But don’t worry — it’s not a one-way street. Google Duplex informs the listener that the phone call is recorded, ensuring there’s a record of the conversation in case something goes wrong.
(Plus, Google knows it’ll have to work out some bugs in Duplex. How else will they know what to fix if they can’t listen to a record of it?)
Overall, Duplex promises to simplify a lot of the back-and-forth between simple business-to-consumer relations.
2. Google Maps Integration
Google Assistant isn’t just stopping with making phone calls.
Coming in 2018, Assistant will also integrate seamlessly with Google Maps.
This means you’ll be able to give voice commands to your phone while Google Maps is directing you.
Commands like “play a podcast” or “open Spotify” will all work, according to Google’s statements, giving drivers a safe alternative to using their smartphones while driving.
In fact, you can even send voice-relayed text messages while Maps is open. You’ll still hear all the directions and information, too — even in the voice that you choose!
3. “Continued Conversation” Functionality
Google Assistant does some incredible things already. But with Continued Conversation functionality, it’ll do away with the one big barrier to usership — requiring someone to say “Hey, Google.”
Also released in 2018, Continued Conversation promises consumers to understand when you’re talking to Google Assistant and when you’re in conversation with another person.
While there aren’t a lot of details on how Google differentiates between the two, the functionality is pretty amazing. It almost sounds like a contradiction since Google Assistant has been striving to learn how to sound like more of a person.
As a result, it’ll be fascinating to see how this functionality plays out long-term, especially when it’s combined with other features like Google Maps integration.
After all, if you’re on a road trip and you tell your friend to play Spotify, you wouldn’t want Assistant doing the exact same thing.
Regardless of why you use Google Assistant, this’ll be a feature to watch as it develops over the next few years.
4. Food Delivery via Google Assistant
To bring everything together, Google has expanded Assistant’s capabilities to order food for its users.
This functionality presumably works similarly to using Duplex to place a call. But in reality, Google has made deals with several food distribution platforms to allow anyone to order with their voice without making a phone call.
While the number of Google-partnered outlets has not been revealed right now, this is another big step for artificial intelligence in terms of helping those who may be disabled.
It could also be a great shortcut for individuals who want food and just don’t feel like making a phone call.
Regardless, it’s an empowering move that may even be able to save someone’s life someday, similar to a Life Alert.
After all, if Google can contact partnered outlets with Assistant, it could — in theory — make an emergency phone call if someone has fallen, hurt themselves, or if they’re in danger.
The applications can extend beyond that to home security integrations as well.
In a nutshell, Google’s Assistant now has the power to do just about anything for the consumer — with the potential to do some great results.
5. New Google Assistant Voices
Right now, there’s only one voice that you can use with Google Assistant.
We alluded to this before, but that’s all about to change.
Google plans to release six new voices for its Google Assistant interactions.
These voices will vary in gender, tone, and accent. They also promise to be some of the finest-sounding voices that Google can find, as evidenced by the fact that one of the choices is recording artist John Legend.
Along with Legend’s voice, Google Assistant has fine-tuned its contextual speech to accommodate pauses, nuances, and vocal inflection.
It’s even capable of adding throw-in words — “uh,” “um,” “like,” etc. — where humans would naturally pause as they speak.
Considering Google Assistant is slated to be available in more than 80 languages, that alone is a monumental task. Every language has its own throw-in words, and every country has its own mannerisms in speech.
That means as long as you can speak a language in which Google Assistant is available, you can almost have a full-blown conversation with an AI without even knowing it.
In other words, Assistant sounds just like a person.
This fact more than any other has caused a bit of controversy since its announcement. AI is still largely experimental, and the idea that it can sound so similar to human speech is unsettling for some people, to say the least.
Zeynap Tufecki, a writer and sociologist currently employed at University of Charlotte Chapel Hill, pointed out that this same technology could become a proponent of the dangerous and annoying trend of “phone spoofing.”
Spoofing is the act of a robot making unsolicited phone calls from your phone number to unsuspecting recipients, touting anything from consumer products to “free” contests.
Phone spoofing is widespread, but it’s still relatively unknown. It’s entirely possible for you to get a phone call from your friend’s number and to hear a robotic voice talking to you.
But that’s just the thing — it’s a robotic voice.
As Tufecki says via her Twitter account:
“Google Assistant making calls pretending to be human not only without disclosing that it’s a bot, but adding ‘ummm’ and ‘aaah’ to deceive the human on the other end with the room cheering it… horrifying.”
Considering spoofing is still a problem — no phone carrier knows how to stop it and it’s 100% untraceable — Tufecki and fellow critics point out that this incredible leap forward in artificial intelligence could ring in a new era of scams.
Proponents, on the other hand, support Google Assistant’s advancements because of what it promises for the future.
If a machine can talk like a person, then surely Google Assistant has applications in text to speech software, which can apply to everything from computer programs to individuals suffering from late-term ALS (also called Lou Gehrig’s Disease) who have lost the ability to talk.
(Think Stephen Hawking.)
As a result, those who have medical disabilities prohibiting them from using their natural voice can gracefully re-enter casual conversation with a pleasant, engaging voice instead of a noticeably-robotic tone.
Depending on how far Google Assistant’s nuances go, maybe it can even laugh one day.
The potential for Google Assistant’s advancements in the future outweigh the possibilities of its misuse, essentially. AI is, after all, a human-controlled machine that’s intended to make life simpler.
While there will certainly always be individuals who want to misuse new technology, the sophistication of Google Assistant is simply too great to imitate, rip off, or steal.
Google controls all aspects of Assistant, and the likelihood that its own employees would sell off its secrets to a black market bidder are non-existant.
After all, Google is known for taking care of its employees.
So while critics may cry foul, the present reality is that Google Assistant is quite safe in the hands of technological innovators.
Could it lead to some new kind of malicious invention in the future?
Perhaps. But so has electricity, nuclear power, and the Internet.
It all depends on the hands in which the technology lies.
The fact of the matter is that humanity has never been so close to creating a fully-realized AI. Up until this point, the entire idea of a machine capable of holding a conversation was fictional.
The future is now, and its potential is borderline limitless.
What’s the Future of Google Assistant?
Google Assistant is now the talk of the town in terms of Google’s suite of properties.
It’s becoming such a big deal that industries focusing on other Google products — like marketers who work with Google Search — are beginning to turn their attention to Assistant and what it means for the future of their careers.
While no one outside of Google can say definitively how Assistant will turn out in the future, most can agree on one simple idea.
Google Assistant is going to do some incredible things in the future.
It can make phone calls for now, and it’s getting John Legend’s voice this year. It’s learned how to talk like a person, and depending on the extent of its communication abilities, it might even be able to save people’s lives by contacting emergency personnel one day.
The Google I/O keynote speech made it clear that Assistant is pulling out far head of competitors like Siri and Alexa in terms of functionality.
It also made it clear that Google is going to cultivate Assistant into an enormous AI with borderline limitless capabilities.
But have these advances gone too far? Is Google acting recklessly, as critics like Tufecki claim, or is it becoming an incredible consumer tool that Silicon Valley is right to applaud?
We can’t say for sure. But at this point, almost everyone has an opinion on Google Assistant.
Let me know what you think in the comments!