Google wasn’t the first to build a digital assistant, but it did it better than anyone else.
Back in 2012, Google launched Google Now, an intelligent service that dug deep into Google’s trove of data called the Knowledge Graph to bring you the information you needed when you needed it. It was clear that Google Now was already ahead of Siri, which launched the previous year on the iPhone 4s.
This week, the next evolution of Google Now made its debut in Allo, Google’s new messaging app for Android and iPhone. It’s called Google Assistant, which Google first showed off at the I/O developers conference in June.
But that’s just the first step. Next month, Google is expected to announce the final details for Google Home, the connected speaker that has Google Assistant inside. Think of it as Google’s answer to the popular Amazon Echo speaker.
Home will be Google’s major push for Assistant, and Google’s Nick Fox told Bloomberg that it will eventually expand into phones, smartwatches, and cars. Google’s vision is to have Assistant with you everywhere, not just on your phone. Until that happens though, you can get a good idea where it’s heading with Allo.
In addition to all the standard messaging features you’d expect — texts, voice memos, stickers, and photos — Allo has the new Google Assistant built in to guide your conversations. For example, if you’re making plans to meet a friend for dinner, Assistant can make suggestions within your chat conversation and help you book a reservation. If you’re talking about sports, Assistant can give you an update on the game’s score or your favourite team’s ranking.
You can also start a chat directly with Assistant and get personalised information, like top news headlines or weather alerts, delivered daily to your Allo app.
The possibilities are endless, but Google’s goal is to have Assistant constantly working in the background, interjecting when needed. We have a good breakdown of what it can do right here.
Assistant is still learning though. After testing it through Allo, there were a few occassions where Assistant misunderstood what I wanted. Luckily, it does give you the option to provide feedback — with a cutesy thumbs-up or thumbs-down emoji — and tell it what it did wrong. Google says this feedback will help Assistant improve over time.
Then there are the privacy concerns. In Allo, Assistant is constantly reading your messages so it can provide you with suggestions for what to type or search for. The idea of an AI reading private communications is likely to turn off a lot of users. Some are even suggesting you don’t use Allo at all. Allo does have a private Incognito mode that disables Assistant, but that also kills the one thing that makes the app unique from other chat apps.
So it’s a bit of paradox. Assistant is poised to become a super-smart AI helper, better than anything rivals like Apple or Microsoft have come up with so far. And soon it will inside your home, phone, and car. But at the same time, you have to give up a piece of yourself to make those features truly useful.
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