It has been all over the TV news, splashed across every tech website on the internet and chatted about endlessly on breakfast radio.
I am, of course, talking about Google Assistant and how it is now so smart it can fool a human into thinking they are talking to a real person as opposed to a robot.
If you don’t know what I am talking about then congratulations for not getting caught up in the hype but allow me a few lines to summarise the momentous (in some eyes at least) event before getting to the reason for this article.
At the most recent Google I/O event (their version of Apple’s WWDC events) they demonstrated a lot of new Artificial Intelegence features that will be coming soon to Gmail, Google Photos and Google Maps (the Google Maps one was pretty cool actually). But it was the new abilities of Google Assistant (their version of Siri) that had most whooping with excitement and some flinging themselves out of 10 storey windows to avoid the coming apocalypse.
The demonstration saw Google Assistant (aka GA) call a salon and book a haircut whilst talking and interacting with the salon owner so naturally that they, supposedly, had no idea they were talking to a robot. A crucial step forward in the race to produce the kinds of robots we have all seen in sci-fi movies.
So this might be snake oil because, after all, this wasn’t a live demonstration but no matter what this is a clear sign of Google Assistants potential. So predictably, as soon as this dropped into the public consciousness the comparisons between GA and Siri began to flow thick and fast. (Well actually they started when the HomePod was released and it was compared to Amazon’s Alexa) but no matter.
Most people will say that Siri is nowhere near as smart or as natural as other virtual assistants on the market. Yet others, who actually use both, will say the void is not that vast. For this reason, or perhaps the whole concept of a virtual assistant creeps you out, recent studies show that there is a good chance that you don’t use Siri. But whether Siri is a mere abstract or a constant frustration, the reason it isn’t as smart is actually a very good thing for you and your privacy.
You see, one of the reasons Google Assistant is so smart is that every search you do on Google, every video you watch on YouTube, every email in gmail and document you write in Google Docs is stored and analysed. In turn, this information is combined with the data created by everyone else and so patterns and behaviours are formed. Armed with this knowledge, Google Assistant can actually learn from this collective knowledge of what is out there and who is using it and so it becomes smarter and more effective at an astonishing rate.
A learning machine. Just like the Terminator.
Siri on the other hand is kept private. A large portion of the data you impart to it is kept on your iPhone or iPad and is never shared. Anything that is placed in the cloud is anonymous and not crossed referenced with anyone or anything.
In other words, Google Assistant and Alexa travel the world like a couple of uni students on a gap year and Siri is home schooled at its mother’s kitchen table.
And why, you might ask, would Apple do such a dumb thing? Well as I am sure you are aware, Apple are obsessed by privacy and to turn Siri into a true competitor to Google Assistant and Alexa would mean being forced to violate something that has become something of a mantra for them.
Of course Apple cannot allow Siri to fall any further behind so their challenge (and you can bet they are working on it) is to make Siri smart enough to fool a human and carry on a natural and fluid conversation without selling their soul – and your data – in order to do so.
So while Apple figure this out I am happy to play with Siri as it is, sitting at its kitchen table – waiting for and enjoying the day when it really is Artificially Intelligent. In the meantime, I will leave the globe trotting Google Assistant and Alexa to their inevitable drug busts and jail time in a Turkish prison.