Google did an Apple yesterday, announcing new phones. It also announced a new speaker that could mark a pretty radical step for artificial intelligence.
They say that the first sign of madness is not when you start talking to yourself, rather it is when you answer back. Some might argue the very concept behind Google’s Home speaker is mad.
The company announced two, Google-branded smart-phones – the Pixel phones. According to press reports, they are not half bad either, boasting a camera which is supposed to have the edge on the latest iPhone and Samsung smart-phone. The phones also come with an actual, physical earphone socket – so very un-Apple like, and unlimited free storage via the cloud. In the press conference announcing the products, Google showed an image of an iPhone saying ‘storage full’.
The products also come with Google Assistant – a bit like Apple’s Siri. Which you can have conversations with. But the Google Assistant comes with a lot of artificial intelligence built in. The idea is that the Assistant gets to know you, and gets to know what you want, reminds you of appointments, things on your to-do list, and maybe in time will anticipate your search enquiries before you make them. It will apparently be able to hold conversations with you, answer a question in the context of your previous question, for example rather than just treat each question in isolation.
The company is also launched a new virtual reality system to work with the phones – that’s an interesting difference with Apple, which appears to be putting more emphasis on augmented reality.
Google’s Home speaker, which is the company’s answer to Amazon’s Echo may be even more interesting.
The idea is for you to be able to talk to this Google speaker, by kicking off the conversation by saying “okay Google”.
And from that, you will be able to control any internet connected device in your home – which frankly, right now, in the UK, is not that many devices, but give it time.
So you can say ‘Okay Google’, can you ‘dim the lights’, ‘turn up the heating’, ‘play a movie on the living room TV featuring sharks’ – or maybe you will be able to do that eventually. Or ask Google if there is any dark chocolate in the fridge – again one day: when choccie bars come with internet sensors.
But remember, Google makes its money from advertising. The more it knows about you, the more accurate it can target ads in your direction: the next thing you will know you are being bombarded by ads for films about sharks and for dark chocolate.